“Tooth and Claw” Chapter 7 Review

Sorry for the delay in this week’s chapter review – I had some critical issues to deal with at work, and just didn’t have time to get to it until today.  Which is a shame, because things are getting interesting at the Benandi establishment.

This is one of the coolest results you get when you do a Google Image search for "dragon church."

This is one of the coolest results you get when you do a Google Image search for “dragon church.”

The Exalt Approves Amer

Exalt Benandi is a tough old dowager, isn’t she?  She has such an assumption that she is right to control every aspect of her (and Sher’s) establishment that she basically interrogates Amer to see if she is suitable to serve Penn and Felin’s household.  Amer had asked Selendra to bind her wings back tightly just for this interview, which is quite a change from how Amer is accustomed to working.  Servants are not supposed to fly, which is why they have their wings bound, but if you recall Haner and Selendra allowed Amer to fly to look for herbs that could help their father during his last few months.

And we can see from this conversation that Exalt Benandi is especially keen on making sure that everyone knows their place, from the way she approves Amer’s show of subservience and her questions about Selendra expecting to have a personal attendant.  Amer slips up a little when she mentions that she chose to accompany Penn and Selendra rather than go to Daverak, and again when she asks the Exalt why it’s so fitting that the young should only be served by the young.  Amer has centuries of experience with dragonets, and it’s a fair question.  But it’s clear that Amer is lucky that the Exalt was in such a good move, to the point where Amer wonders if it might not have been better for her to go to Daverak after all.

Firstday at Benandi

No flying on Firstday, which means that Selendra has not been allowed to use her wings since before she even arrived at Benandi with Penn and Amer.  And let’s not forget that she’s still coming to terms with the loss of her father, who passed away only a week since.  And because of Exalt Benandi, everyone needs to attend church.  Everyone.  She even takes some time to reprimand a farmer whose daughter was absent from this week’s service.

Sher takes the opportunity to express his condolences to Selendra after Penn’s service, and describes old Bon so well that Selendra has to keep herself from crying.  Sher is touched by her grief and offers to take her flying the next morning.  Meanwhile, his mother is communicating her disapproval of Amer to Felin.  Felin is pleased with Amer’s work at making preserves, and gently rebuffs the Exalt’s suggestion that Amer wishes to fuss over Selendra, and that Selendra sees such fussing as her due.  Their conversation moves on to the dinner party that the Exalt is holding as part of her plan to set Sher up with Gelener Telstie.  Felin is unsure about including Selendra, since the pain of her loss is still so fresh, but as the Exalt is insistent upon having Penn there, there’s really no excuse for Selendra not to come as well.

Selendra and Sher

Selendra is a dragon after my own heart – after Felin lets her know that she’s been invited to the dinner party, Selendra says that she would much rather stay home and read.  Things are a little tense between her and Felin until they come to an understanding, and Selendra offers to look after the children.  Felin is not available to take Selendra flying, since she must accompany Penn to see to a farmer’s sick child in the parish (and remember, by “see to” they mean confirming that the dragonet is healthy again, or eating it).  Selendra resigns herself to playing with her nephews, Wontas and Gerin, when Sher arrives to keep his promise.

Sher is pleased to see Selendra acting like a loving aunt, and she in turn is happy to see how much her nephews like him.  Even though Felin is not there to accompany/chaperone them, he insists on taking her flying anyway.  She sees nothing inappropriate about it because her understanding of his relationship to Penn, Felin and the dragonets is one as family, and considers the flight to be no different than if she were accompanied by one of her own brothers.  But as they fly alone to view the beauty of the wild areas of Benandi, Sher starts to think of her as something more than a sister.

A Dinner Party

It seems like Selendra’s initial inclination not to attend the Exalt’s party is a good one, as things don’t go well for her.  She’s not used to this kind of social event, as she and Haner were pretty isolated at Agornin.  So when she meets Gelener Telstie, whose family name she recognizes, she says so in an attempt to make conversation.  She mentions that her father Bon was once a tenant of the Telsties before he made his fortune and became Dignified.  Gelener is “politely” distant and basically walks away, which leaves Selendra confused.

Exalt Benandi clears it up for her, telling Selendra to mention her connection with the Fidrak family rather than actually mention her father’s “low origins.”  Selendra is even further confused, as her closest Fidrak relation is not a dragon that she even knows, and she doesn’t see anything wrong with her father’s origins.  Things get heated when the Exalt explains to her that it is something that should be hidden lest others think less of her (including the Exalt, Gelener and her mother), and Selendra is justifiably offended, declaring loudly that she is not ashamed of her father, whom she loved.  The Exalt tries to evade responsibility for the argument by telling Selendra that she misunderstood what she was saying, and Selendra reluctantly apologizes.

Sher is indignant on Selendra’s behalf, and persuades her to stay when Felin would have taken her home.  Felin is dismayed as she recognizes a familiar pattern of Sher’s behavior, one in which he becomes invested in someone’s sympathetic circumstances before growing bored and forgetting about them.  Felin is accustomed to taking over Sher’s “projects,” which have included her own children.  They love Sher like an uncle, but he forgets them when they are out of his sight, not even bothering to say goodbye when he leaves Benandi.  But Felin also dislikes Gelener as a bride for Sher, and allows herself to hope that maybe his interest in Selendra is different.  Though she quails at the thought of the trouble this will cause.

Top image via AFAE.

Chapter 7, Video 1

Chapter 7, Video 2

Chapter 7, Video 3

Chapter 7, Video 4

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“Tooth and Claw” Chapter 6 Review

I suppose I’ve given up on making my videos visually presentable – I’ve been having difficulties in recording videos longer than 15 minutes, and it’s just more comfortable for me to sit on the couch.  This means I have computer screen reflected in my glasses and it looks weird.  But it’s the words that are important.

Hats are very important.

Hats are very important.

The Importance of Hats

I’ll bet you didn’t know that dragons wore hats, or that they were important, did you?  Hats are basically the most practical item of clothing for a dragon to wear, and of course the more expensive the hat, the better status symbol it makes.  As Avan muses, rules about hats are more relaxed in the country, as hats are generally only “required” for church attendance, but in Irieth it’s impossible to be seen as a dragon of status without one.  Sebeth and Avan plan out the day in vague terms while choosing hats, and Avan discloses his intention to visit his attorney, Hathor.  Avan’s inheritance isn’t safe within his quarters, and he’d do better to invest it anyway.  Sebeth points out that he won’t be able to do anything with it if he squanders it all on a lawsuit he may lose, but Avan remains undeterred.

Extended Claws

I like the little moment we have when Avan is flying towards Hathor’s office, thinking that if he were a dragon that had to survive on size, strength and claws alone, he wouldn’t be too shabby at it.  When he reaches his attorney’s office he runs into the Exalted Rimalin, who hints around about an investment opportunity and invites Avan to stay with him and his wife in their country demense.  Avan is surprised to get this invitation, but accepts it.  They also catch a glimpse of Respected Gelener Telstie, the maiden that Exalt Benandi has picked out for her son Sher.  Were she and her mother making dowry arrangements?

Office Politics

Avan’s plan to arrive fashionably late at the office means that his timing is perfect to interrupt his co-worker Kest in harassing Sebeth.  V— is a bad word for female dragons, and Kest has no problem using it to address Sebeth because of her “ruined” and not-respectable character.  Sebeth’s sass gives me life, especially considering that Kest is almost twice as big as she is, but Avan steps in after hearing Kest say the V-Word.  Avan basically wipes the floor with him, but he yields immediately and shows Avan enough submission to escape with his life.  Sebeth reveals that Kest often pesters her to do his copying, and is really gross about it, and Avan basically institutes an anti-harassment of Sebeth policy right then and there.

It’s a good thing Liralen missed all of the excitement, because the old dragon is ready for retirement and has very decided opinions about dragons that kill each other for promotions.  He gives Avan an important and relatively secret job regarding building plans for the Skamble, which is basically the slum part of Irieth.

A Second Confession

Sebeth isn’t even accepted as an equal among her fellow clerks, who she passes in the street.  Her coloring without being betrothed is there for all to see, and the people who know she is not a bride do not consider her to be respectable.  She makes her way toward the Skamble and enters a church of the Old Believers.  If you remember from the first chapter, when Penn was shocked at the idea of Bon wishing to confess to him, you’ll also remember that the modern church has disavowed the sacrament of confession, and dragons who practice it are also not respectable.  I can see how Sebeth would feel more welcome there than at any modern church.  Another interesting thing to note is the depiction of the gods on the walls of the church.  Jurale and Veld are dragons, as always, but Camran is depicted as a Yarge (human).  And not just as a metaphor – the Old Believers think that Camran really is/was a Yarge.  Blasphemous.

Sebeth confesses to Blessed Calien, and he forgives her for living in sin with Avan and of enjoying it when Avan kicked Kest’s ass all over the office.  She also tells him everything she knows about the plans Avan is reviewing about building in the Skamble, and Calien instructs her to keep passing information to him.

Chapter 6, Video 1

Chapter 6, Video 2

Chapter 6, Video 3

Chapter 6, Video 4

“Tooth and Claw” Chapter 5 Review

Wow, I had no idea how difficult making videos can be – I have new respect for vloggers and people who incorporate making videos into what they do online.  I kept losing my connection, and would have to start all over and read several section over again.  But no harm done – it’s all there, if you’re following along with the videos.

Let’s dive right in, shall we?

Felin Agornin and The Exalt

We’ve heard about Penn’s wife before, but now we finally get to meet her.  Remember that Penn wrote her a letter, telling her that he intended to take Amer into their household and hoping that it would escape the worst of Exalt Benandi’s disapproval.  In the letter, he had given Felin permission to side with the Exalt against him, in order to placate her, but we see here that Felin has her own way of doing things.  In fact, she knows the Exalt much more intimately than Penn does, for she and her mother were living on Exalted and Exalt Benandi’s generosity after Felin’s father died fighting alongside Exalted Marshal Benandi during a battle.  Because of this unique living situation, Felin grew up with the Exalt’s son Sher, and the two of them were mostly as brother and sister.  The Exalt would have taken a dislike to Felin if Sher had fallen in love with her, but because she saw that Felin was actively trying to prevent this from happening their relationship was preserved.  The Exalt instead basically dowered Felin, arranging her marriage to Sher’s friend Penn, and giving Penn the living that had recently become vacant at Benandi parsonage.

Felin does not expect to find Sher at Benandi, since he’s usually off amusing himself in Irieth at this time of year.  But Sher seems weary of the social life and wanted some time at home, although of course he gave no one any notice or time to prepare.  They go to see Sher’s mother together, so that Felin can inform her of Penn’s arrival, and of taking Amer into their household.  The Exalt isn’t pleased – she’s a busybody who likes to arrange things for other people, and hold them to her standard.  She makes sure everyone in the immediate vicinity of Benandi Place goes to church every week, and they all know they can expect a visit from her if they do not.  The Exalt believes (as does Felin) that Selendra has expectations of being waited on by Amer, the way a higher-class maiden would have such an attendant.  Felin eventually talks her around into accepting it, and promises that they will all dine at Benandi Place the day after Penn, Selendra and Amer arrive.

Sher’s Prospects

Exalt Benandi has recognized the signs in her son of wanting to settle down, and it fills her with almost equal parts of relief and anxiety.  Relief, because up until now Sher’s pastimes included gambling away money and hunting, which seem to be the pursuits of most well-born male dragons who aren’t interested in the church or politics.  As the text said, when your lifespan is going to include multiple centuries, planning for the future seems like an incredibly necessary thing to do.  The Exalt regrets not being able to make Sher learn that lesson effectively when he was younger and more under her control, but now that he might wish to settle down and marry, she has an opportunity to change things.

The downside to this is that the Exalt runs the risk of being turned out of her own home by whomever Sher ends up marrying, because Sher’s wife would take her place as keeper of the household and could basically do what she likes.  The Exalt can’t have Sher marrying a maiden with a title that outranks hers, but she also can’t have Sher marrying a “club entertainer” because that is clearly below his station.  Remember, even Felin was below his station, being the daughter of one of Exalted Marshal’s subordinates.  In the previous section, the Exalt even made a remark about how Felin’s father should have saved up for his family (I can’t tell if this is something that Felin is used to ignoring, but yikes!).

Come on.  Tell me this is not who you were thinking of when we met the Exalt Benandi.

Come on. Tell me this is not who you were thinking of when we met the Exalt Benandi.

So the Exalt has, for the last few years, paid special attention to the eligible maidens at the surrounding demenses, and has even gone to Irieth to see the maidens being presented to society.  The maiden at the top of her short list currently is from a branch of the Telstie family, well-dowered but not titled, and the daughter of one of her close friends.  Seems to be a perfect match, doesn’t it?

The Travelers Arrive

Selendra is starting to feel her freedom slip away from her, first on the train as she is prevented from flying above it to stretch her wings (no escort), again when Penn doesn’t let her fly from the train stop to the parsonage, and even again when Penn makes decisions about her hunting like she’s not even there.  She’s being torn from everything familiar, and she can’t even call Agornin her home anymore.  It’s good for both Felin and Selendra to start off on good terms, with Selendra’s admiration of her sister-in-law’s flying and her ready agreement in Amer’s duties, but Felin takes her wifely duties seriously and doesn’t seem to be an ally in influencing Penn to grant his sister permission to take part in a hunt.

Sher, we see, has very decided opinions on what female dragons are capable of doing, and that includes hunting even though they have no claws.  Of course, Sher is in a much more privileged position than most, and doesn’t face the same kind of social consequences for bending the rules of proper behavior when it comes to dive-racing and hunting.  He sure pays Selendra a pretty compliment, though she’s obviously uncomfortable with the attention – her only and most recent experience with this kind of attention ended in assault.  So where to from here?

Chapter 5, Video 1

Chapter 5, Video 2

Chapter 5, Video 3

“Tooth and Claw” Chapter 4 Review

I apologize for the quality of my reading in this week’s videos.  For some reason I was tripping over my words and my bangs were constantly in my face.  But hopefully you were able to get the gist.

There’s a lot to unpack in this chapter, so let’s do it section by section, shall we?

Penn’s Preparations for Departure

Last week Amer asked Penn directly about allowing her to come with Selendra to Benandi, hinting that she might be needed to see after Selendra’s color if something went wrong with the tea that restored it.  Also implicit, I think, is the barest hint of possible blackmail, because the herb that Selendra took to make her maiden’s gold come back was clearly not sanctioned by the church, and it would hurt Selendra’s chances of marrying at all if it were found out that she might have blushed before marriage.  Penn accepted, mostly out of concern for Selendra, but he also remembered that Amer had practically raised him as well.  But taking on another servant was never part of the arrangements that were made in preparing for Bon’s death, so Penn writes to his wife Felin about how to handle it.

Penn, as a parson, is dependent upon his patroness for the living he and his family enjoys.  Exalt Benandi, the mother of Penn’s friend Sher, oversees Benandi demense with an iron claw, and pays particular attention to making sure that people have only what they can afford.  Penn makes arrangements to be picked up from Benandi Halt by a carriage that can take himself, Selendra and Amer as a sign to Exalt Benandi that Penn’s living is secure enough to take another servant.  The Exalt would not generally approve of that either, however, so Penn is trying some pre-emptive damage control by asking Felin to explain things, and he gives his wife permission to side with the Exalt to soothe her feelings.

Penn and Selendra Leave

Understandably, Haner and Selendra are heartbroken and emotional on the day that they will be separated.  When Daverak arrives to start his business as lord of Agornin and to take Haner back with him, he brings some surprising news.  Berend is ready to lay her second clutch, just four years after the first.  If you remember, Amer said that a female dragon could reasonably be expected to live long enough to see grandchildren if they had understanding husbands and time to space out their clutches.  And Bon Agornin’s wife died after laying her third clutch.  Basically, reproduction is a matter of life and death for female dragons, and all of the Agornin siblings aren’t exactly pleased to hear that Daverak has already knocked Berend up again.  Selendra is verbal about her surprise, and of course Daverak looks down on her for it.

You're on the list, Daverak.  I've got my eye on you.

You’re on the list, Daverak. I’ve got my eye on you.

When Selendra and Haner go down to get all of Selendra’s gold together for the journey, Daverak makes an off-hand remark to Avan about how he had considered appointing him as bailiff for the Agornin demense, but then says that he offered it to a cousin instead.  Avan, thinking about it, thinks that Daverak should have mentioned this earlier – if Avan could be provided with some measure of security under the larger dragon’s protection, he would have taken it and dropped the idea of the lawsuit.  He could have provided a home for Selendra and Haner as well, but of course Daverak continues in his jerkitude and sticks with the cousin-as-bailiff plan.

Haner Leaves

Haner learns of this missed opportunity when she returns from seeing off Selendra and Penn at the train station, and is grateful to Avan for even considering it.  When he brings up the lawsuit again, Haner tells him that she can’t add her name to it, not if she’s to live under Daverak’s roof.  At first Avan doesn’t understand, but when Haner makes it clear that Daverak could make her life miserable, he even offers to take her to Irieth.  It wouldn’t be an ideal situation, as we’ll discover later, and Haner would need to work.  But it was nice of him to offer.  Haner declines, but is grateful to her brother yet again for thinking of her.

Sebeth

Among the complications that would be involved in bringing Haner to Irieth is Sebeth, Avan’s clerk and mistress.  Sebeth must work for a living, even though she was nobly born, because a dragon kidnapped her when she was young and demanded that her father pay ransom.  She endured what Selendra endured at the beginning of her captivity, being forced to blush in the presence of a male.  But Sebeth’s father didn’t pay.  He said he had “dragonets enough,” and basically wrote her off.  That’s when Sebeth’s captor raped her, and after he tired of her, he forced her into prostitution and took all of the gold that she earned for himself.

Sebeth bade her time, carefully keeping track of the amount of gold that she earned, and that her captor took.  She had been convinced that somehow, she owed this gold to him.  But once it was paid off, she killed him and set out on her own.  Being pink and yet unmarried, Sebeth could not ever be considered Respected, and therefore had to take what work she could find.  Avan met her in a gambling house and became one of her lovers, and eventually she became his clerk.

I love Sebeth’s story so much, because she has clearly taken control of her life after enduring awful circumstances, and she keeps the details to herself.  Avan doesn’t know the name of her true family, and she sees no reason to tell.  She’s full of colorful stories and she and Avan have an open relationship that allows her to own her sexuality, as she couldn’t while she was in forced prostitution.

Avan tells his lover about the planned lawsuit, and Sebeth expresses doubt about how effective or fair the courts could ever be.  Having been a sex worker, she probably understands that better than most.

Fire cannot kill a feminist dragon

The Perils of Consumption

Here is where this chapter gets even more depressing.  Haner doesn’t fit easily into life at Daverak, and she is greeted by the news that little green Lamerak was deemed a weakling, and then consumed.  The way that Daverak and Berend are acting is not exactly like grieving parents act, and Haner develops a suspicion (undoubtedly correct) that Daverak intended to impregnate Berend with her second clutch and merely prolonged Lamerak’s life to provide some nutrition for her.

Daverak and Berend’s other two dragonets are subdued and don’t understand what happened to their sibling, and Haner takes pity on them.  She tries to cheer them up while Daverak and Berend eat breakfast, and Daverak suggests a visit to a very old farming family in his demense.  Berend and Haner agree, and have a moment to talk before leaving.  Berend is determined to see Haner marry well, fully aware that she had the lion’s share of Bon Agornin’s gold for her dowry.  Haner, keeping the pledge she made to Selendra, claims sixteen thousand crowns for her dowry, and Berend promises that she will do what she can to get her some security.

The description of the beauty of the island farm as the three of them fly in to land is marred when Haner discovers the real reason Daverak wanted to visit.  It turns out that the Majes have had a new clutch of hatchlings, two of which were outside to greet Daverak.  The other two, as Haner sees, were hidden inside for fear that Daverak would spot them for weaklings.  He asserts his privilege of rank and size over the protests of the farmers, and actually enters their home to drag out the little hatchlings.  The Majes are distraught, and the mother of the dragonets keens her grief as Daverak casually kills and dismembers her children.  Berend complains about the lower classes making too much of a fuss over the tradition of culling, and eats the portion of the hatchlings that Daverak offers her.  Haner eats her small portion, too, uncomfortably aware of the farming family’s eyes on her.

Chapter 4, Video 1

Chapter 4, Video 2

Chapter 4, Video 3

“Tooth and Claw” Chapter 3 Review

Bet you guys never thought you could discuss rape/purity culture in the context of a story about dragons, did you?  And yet here we are, dealing with the fallout from Frelt’s rapey, selfish proposal to Selendra.  Let’s break this down section by section.

Selendra’s Coloring

I’d first like to point out how gracefully Walton introduces us to dragon culture a piece at a time, relying on the reader’s prior knowledge of similar novels about humans to help fill in the gaps.  Specifically, in dragon culture, color is everything.  We’ve already seen (or at least heard) of what happens to young dragons who are too green.  And now we come to realize how important color is to maiden dragons as well.  Maidens are varying shades of gold, but when they first become aroused by a potential mate, they turn pink.  After they lay their first clutch of eggs, they turn red.

When Selendra makes her way into the dining room, she is blushing pink.  We know, because we read about it last week, that Frelt deliberately leaned over her, pressing her physically even though it was clear that this was not polite dragon behavior, and especially poor behavior for a parson.  We know that from Frelt’s perspective, he had deluded himself into believing that this was all very romantic, and he was even considering carrying Selendra off to rape her until she reminded him that she is under her brothers’ protection.

Penn and Avan are rightfully angry on her behalf, but they take entirely the wrong approach to it.  Instead of comforting their sister, as Haner is doing, Penn frets about Selendra having to marry Frelt after all if her scales have turned color.  And Avan actually chides Selendra for going down to meet the parson alone.  Haner leaps to her sister’s defense, angrily pointing out that Frelt is a fucking parson, and if anyone should be “safe” to be around it should be dragons of that persuasion, especially because they are Immune.  She also points out that Selendra went down to greet him just to be polite, and that Avan knew she was, and if he had been so worried about it then he would have gone down with or instead of her.

Seriously, Avan?

Seriously, Avan?!

The brothers are hung up on this color thing, knowing more about the world than their sisters, who have spent their entire lives at the Agornin establishment.  Because female dragons have the most visible sign of lost “virtue,” if not virginity, they are shunned by good society and therefore easy prey (in multiple ways) for dragons who are so low as to take advantage of that fact.  Penn and Avan are worried about Selendra even being able to have a legitimate marriage, because a maiden’s worth is measured in gold – both the gold of her dowry, and the gold of her virgin scales.  The idea that Selendra would be forced to marry the very dragon who sexually assaulted her is very much related to various cultural practices that force a rape victim to be married to her rapist, and also the idea that a woman has somehow lost “value” for having been raped.

The Sisters’ Vow

Haner takes Selendra straight to Amer, having confidence that their old nursemaid would know what to do.  Amer asks Selendra specific questions about what happened in the corridor as she prepares herbs and sets a kettle on the fire to boil.  Selendra is understandably shaken, more so now that when she was actually in the moment (which is a common feeling for victims of assault).  She talks about how Frelt deliberately leaned on her and re-affirms her determination never to marry him.

As Amer prepares the special tea, she very seriously informs Selendra of the possible consequences of taking this medicine.  As she says, it’s not magic, but medicine, and some dragons react differently to it.  Either the tea will restore Selendra’s maiden color and she will live her life as she would have, or the tea will fail to restore her color in which case she’s no worse off, or the tea will work so well that when Selendra really does become attracted to a dragon and accepts his proposal, she will not be able to blush pink the way she should.  Selendra is taking a risk here, possibly giving up marriage and dragonets just to avoid having to marry Frelt, but she chooses to drink the tea, fully informed of the situation.

Haner takes Selendra down to their sleeping cave for her to rest and allow the tea to do its work, as Amer washes up and burns the herbs she used on the kitchen fire.  As Selendra lays down on her gold to sleep, she and Haner make a vow to each other not to marry unless the other approves the match, and can come live with the married couple to look after the dragonets.  They also promise to combine their dowries to put one of them at advantage, so they will each say they have sixteen thousand crowns, rather than eight.

Surprises for Penn

As much as I dislike the cultural influences that led Penn to consider forcing Selendra to marry Frelt, I do feel sorry for him during this section.  After all, he and his siblings have all suffered a significant loss, had contentious family issues about the inheritance, and had an obnoxious intrusion of privacy in the form of Frelt’s stupid proposal.  He prays to the gods for a solution – any solution – that would allow Selendra to have a proper marriage to a dragon she loves.

Avan, meanwhile, is coming up with solutions of his own, and he approaches Penn with his suggestion when the parson comes down from his perch on the mountain.  Avan has high-ranking connections in Irieth, and knows a good-natured Exalted couple who might be willing to take Selendra on as a consort.  She wouldn’t be officially married, but she would be in the care of dragons Avan counts as friends.  Penn is disgusted by this idea, even though the Church doesn’t explicitly forbid it, and says that Selendra would basically be at the mercy of anyone who took her as a consort, and that it would be beneath her.  Notice how the two of them are discussing this without even thinking about consulting Selendra about it.  They are the ranking Agornin males, and assume that they have control over the females.

To Penn’s surprise, he finds that Selendra has turned gold again, and is informed by Haner that all she needed was rest and some special tea from Amer.  Penn thinks he has a good idea of what Amer gave to Selendra to drink, and this is definitely a big Church no-no.

Of course it is.  Anything that allows females more control over their lives and bodies is going to be a church no-no.

Maximus is having exactly none of your sexist, religious bullshit.

Maximus is having exactly none of your sexist religious bullshit.

Penn confronts Amer in the kitchen, asking her explicitly what she gave Selendra, and Amer neatly side-stepping the question and turning the blame to Frelt, which is exactly where it should be.  She points out that Selendra was only alone with Frelt for a few minutes, which is far too short for Selendra to have lost her virginity, if not her color (go Amer!).  She also hints that she might need to stay with Selendra to make sure that she stays gold, and asks Penn to take her into his household’s service.  She plays every card she has, including the I-watched-over-you-when-you-were-little-and-don’t-you-forget-it card.

Penn agrees to allow Amer to come with Selendra to Benandi, though he’s not sure how he would explain this apparent extravagance to his wife.  Which is something we’ll find out about next week (I think).

Chapter 3, Video 1

Chapter 3, Video 2

 

 

“Tooth and Claw” Chapter 2 Review

This week’s review is going up a little earlier in the week than I would usually post, because I’m going to be out of town for the (U.S.) holiday weekend.  I know you’re all devastated at the prospect of having more dragons, more quickly, but I’m sure you’ll just push through the pain with dignity.  Again, I’m borrowing this review style from Mark Oshiro of MarkReads.  Please check out his site and consider supporting him and his work.

When we finished the first chapter last week, Illustrious Daverak and his family had eaten the majority of Bon Agornin’s body, in direct violation of the old dragon’s wishes.  This left Avan (Bon’s son from the second clutch) and Selendra and Haner (Bon’s daughters from the third clutch) at a grave disadvantage in size and power, because dragonflesh is able to strengthen and give growth to the dragons who consume it.

Avan’s Lawsuit

Avan, rightfully furious at Daverak’s actions, complains bitterly with his sisters Selendra and Haner while watching Berend and Daverak fly home to their own establishment.  The gold is poor comfort to the three of them, as it must be split three ways and doesn’t offer much in the way of long-term security.  Selendra and Haner should use it as their dowries, and at 8,000 crowns each those dowries are not likely to attract rich and/or high-status husbands.  It’s mentioned in the text that Bon Agornin paid a handsome dowry for Berend’s marriage to Daverak.  So in dragon culture, it seems that fathers must pay their prospective son-in-laws to take their daughters off of their, um, claws.

None of the three youngest Agornin dragons are in a good position, however, as Avan still has to make his own way in the world.  Being a male dragon and not a parson like his brother Penn, he has to deal with physical challenges from other males, on top of doing his work for the Office in Irieth.  There’s nothing he can do at present to help his sisters, though they are heartbroken at having to live apart from each other.

But Avan comes up with the idea of filing a lawsuit – he has a letter from Bon Agornin stating how he wished his inheritance to be distributed.  It’s unlikely that this misunderstanding about Bon’s body is an offense for which Daverak would be executed, but it is the custom of the court to give the bodies of executed criminals as restitution in cases like these.  He’s so excited about this prospect that initially he forgets that he cannot spend all of Bon’s gold on it – it must be divided between him and his sisters equally.  They are concerned about the expense, and innocently remind him of their need for dowries.  Avan doesn’t let go of the idea, but without their shares of the gold it will be that much more difficult to challenge Daverak in a court of law.

Frelt’s Intentions

Hey girl, shelves in the closet.

You know that was your first thought.

Hoooo boy.  Frelt.  Frelt, Frelt, Frelt, Frelt, Frelt.  That was a nice little internal thought process we were treated to, wasn’t it?  Holy entitlement, Batman!  For not only do we see what a massive, classist snob this dragon is, we see his powers of self-delusion as well.  He doesn’t mind having his wings bound because he thinks it makes him pious and superior to everyone else, even other parsons.  He is so hung up on his cross that he must be pulling splinters out of his sphincter.

Frelt decides that he needs a wife, and because he’s not impressed with the other local dragon maidens, briefly considers going to Irieth in the Season so that he can see all of the maidens of marriageable age.  He feels as though it would be beneath him to take a wife that was ugly or old, and so he’s set his sights on the maidens who would be presented to society that year.  The fact that he offered to take Berend in marriage has raised his standards even higher, because she eventually became the wife of an Illustrious.  Though Frelt himself doesn’t hold that rank, he feels now like he can’t accept any maiden who would not be worthy of being considered by an Illustrious.  So he decides on Selendra, after briefly considering  Haner, because Selendra is lively and can fly around to run errands for him, and seems less likely to die after laying her clutches.

I know.  It’s so fucked up.

Amer’s Plea

This is where we start to hear some really worrisome things about Illustrious Daverak and how he runs things in his demense.  When the long-time Agornin family servant, Amer, asks Selendra to take her with her to live with Penn at Benandi, instead of going with Haner as planned, she relates some of the gossip she heard from the servants that Berend and Daverak had brought with them.

Amer tells Selendra what she heard about Daverak killing and eating older servants, as though they were weakling dragonets needing to be culled.  Selendra is shocked at this, and recites scripture that outlines how such cullings ought to be conducted:

There must be no killing of dragons except after a challenge or in the presence of a parson, for the improvement of dragonkind.

This means that male dragons have the right to challenge each other and fight to the death.  Parsons, being of the church, are immune.  The color green is a sign of weakness in dragonets, and according to this such dragonets must be killed and eaten to improve dragonkind.

And yet Daverak crosses this boundary according to gossip, taking it upon himself to end the lives of older, lower-class dragons as well as potentially healthy dragonets, all under the guise of doing his duty as an Illustrious.  And he were see how this class and power structure remains in place.  Dragons only become the biggest and strongest according to the availability of dragonflesh.  The law and the church say that high-ranking dragons have the right to consume the weaklings of their demenses.  Thus, those dragons already in power keep getting bigger and stronger, passing down the demense to their children, who also grow big and strong, and the cycle continues.  The lower-class dragons stay small and vulnerable because they do not have the right or access to dragonflesh, which would give them a similar advantage.

Indeed, we can see the classism in the custom of binding the wings of servants – the narration of the book says that the assumption is that servants will fly off and run away if they are allowed to use their wings.  We see that Amer is a loyal servant to the Agornins, since she was allowed to fly when Bon Agornin was ill, and she returned with the herbs he needed.  Strict masters and mistresses will insist on servants’ wings being bound very tightly, while Amer is so trusted that her bindings are largely ceremonial, like Penn’s.

A Proposal

And again I say, hoooo boy.  Poor Selendra.  She goes down to meet Frelt after Avan tells her that the parson is coming to visit, and she has absolutely no idea what he could possibly want.  But we know, and we cringe as Frelt goes overboard into manipulative proposal mode, trying to flatter her and ignoring every single protest she makes after she understands what’s going on.  Frelt pulls a Mr. Collins on poor Selendra and refuses to take her “No” for an answer, falling into that same old belief that maidens must refuse at first, lest they seem too eager.  If you watch the videos you’ll see the face I pull at that section.

In fact, Frelt presses his attention, literally, getting very physical and leaning over Selendra.  Remember that when he was cooking this whole thing up he thought about carrying her off and sorting out the details later – Selendra is in real danger here.  She literally runs away from him, heading up the corridor as fast as she can.  Frelt is in hot pursuit, but once she gets a little breathing room she tells him in no uncertain terms to bugger off and never speak of this proposal shit again.

Frelt is furious, of course, but when Selendra reminds him that her brothers are here at the establishment and that she’s under their protection, he has no choice but to go, resenting her for thinking the worst of him (which is actually her thinking the truth of him).

Tune in next week for the fall-out of this ill-fated proposal attempt.

Chapter 2, Video 1

Chapter 2, Video 2

Chapter 2, Video 3

Feminist Dragons Read “Tooth and Claw”

I’d like to say one thing upfront, and that is that I’m borrowing this review format from the lovely Mark Oshiro of Mark Does Stuff.  I didn’t invent the wheel here, I’m standing on the shoulders of adorable professional media consumers.  I highly recommend that you check out his MarkReads site, where he’s currently reading through all of the Discworld novels in chronological order, as well as all of the works of Tamora Pierce.  His past reviews are all listed, and his upcoming reading list can be found here.  If you find that you enjoy his work as much as I do, please consider supporting him by commissioning a video of a future chapter.

Tooth and Claw, by Jo Walton

Tooth and Claw, by Jo Walton

If there’s one thing I love about reading, it’s sharing that love with a bunch of other people anonymously on the Internet.  It’s hard to say if I like introducing people to things they haven’t read more than I like finding people who love the same books I do, but I find both of those things incredibly rewarding.  So given the tone of this site, I thought it would be fitting to start a review series of Tooth and Claw, a Victorian-style novel about dragons written by Jo Walton.  The reason I’m borrowing Mark Oshiro’s review style is because I think reading the book aloud will help people follow along, if they aren’t able to get their hands on a copy.  You can find those videos embedded at the end of the post – maybe start with those first if you haven’t read it.

This might help some of you clarify the relationships between the characters that are introduced in the first chapter:

The best I could do - I'm even confused by human genealogy.

The best I could do – I’m even confused by human genealogy, so you can imagine how complicated dragon genealogy can be.

The chapter opens on Bon Agornin’s deathbed.  Right away, Walton introduces us to the religion of dragons with Blessed Penn attending his father in his capacity as a parson, and we learn that Bon’s body will be consumed by his family according to dragon tradition.  Bon’s heart is uneasy, though, and he worries about his fate in the afterlife if he is not allowed to die without first confessing a heavy burden.  It is the religious and social custom of the dragons for the high-ranking ones to consume weaker, lower-ranking dragons in order to ensure the strength of the overall dragon population.  Bon’s father met this fate, as did several of his siblings.  By the time he was old enough to grow wings and seek his own fortune, Bon had not yet consumed enough dragon flesh (which has particular properties to help dragons grow quickly) to ensure his survival.  So he ate his remaining brother and sister, before setting off to make his fortune.

Penn is rightly shocked to hear this, as this is outside the approved guidelines for dragons to practice cannibalism.  But he also wants his father to die feeling easier, and so he risks his position in the Church by granting him absolution, a rite that had fallen out of favor and practice for thousands of years.  And after Bon dies, Penn calls his family down to feast.

Up in the Speaking Room, Bon’s daughter Berend, her husband Daverak, and the local parson Blessed Frelt have congregated to wait until Bon passes.  Berend left Bon’s cave to marry Daverak about seven years ago, and has since laid her first clutch of eggs.  All three of them hatched successfully, though little green Lamerak would be considered a weakling and eaten if he were not under Daverak’s protection.  Daverak hopes that if Lamerak eats some of Bon’s liver, he will grow stronger and change to a different color to show it.  Daverak, being lord of his own establishment, has the right to eat the weaklings of the dragons who work his estate.

The conversation is awkward and stilted, which is related to Blessed Frelt’s feud with Bon Agornin.  Frelt had wanted to marry Berend, but Bon put a stop to it.  They had not been on friendly terms since.

In the Dining Room, Bon’s youngest children, Selendra and Haner, reunite with their older brother Avan.  Avan lives in Irieth, the capital, as a member of the Office for the Planning and Beautification of Irieth.  He went to seek his fortune there, being able to do so only because he is a male dragon with wings and claws.  Selendra points this out in anger after she learns that Avan will not be able to inherit and maintain Bon’s establishment.  Avan is not yet big enough to defend his territory, himself and his sisters from the larger dragons of the neighboring demenses, which means that Selendra and Haner will have to live separately for the first time in their lives.

This is where it gets very interesting, and reminiscent of stories like Sense & Sensibility, in that Selendra and Haner are put into a vulnerable position by their father’s impending death.  Female dragons are expected to keep house and bear dragonets.  They are not allowed to have careers of their own – indeed, there are very few “respectable” professions in which they could even attempt to make one.  Female dragons have wings, but no claws to defend themselves against larger dragons.  We see from the presence of Amer, the family servant, that only high-ranking females have the “luxury” of not having to work for a living.  This is the same as it is among humans – while well-off (and usually white) women were socially barred from being able to work, poor women (and usually women of color) had to work menial labor to support themselves and their families.

When Penn calls the family down to the undercave to consume Bon’s body, there is a serious misunderstanding about how the body, and Bon’s wealth, is to be divided.  The strengthening properties of dragon flesh make it a valuable inheritance, and the old dragon had intended to leave most of it to his un-established children – Avan, Selendra and Haner.  Bon’s wealth was intended to be split among similar lines.  However, Daverak considered the flesh and the gold to be completely separate issues, and basically digs right in.

Penn protests, but cannot physically challenge his brother-in-law unless he wanted to risk his career in the Church.  Daverak appeals to Frelt to decide, and Frelt takes great pleasure in thwarting the wishes of old Bon, allowing Daverak, Berend and their dragonets to eat the majority of the body.

This leaves Avan, Selendra and Haner in a grave position – not only do Selendra and Haner have to live with different siblings, waiting to be married off, but they and Avan are denied the advantage they would have had with the extra growth from their father’s flesh.

How will this injustice be addressed?

Chapter 1, Video 1

Chapter 1, Video 2

Chapter 1, Video 3