Jumping in with a quick post on Tooth and Claw before we start on the next book.
Firstly, can I say how much I enjoyed this book. (This was a bit of a relief after last month when I loved the concept and hated the execution.) I thought that Tooth and Claw worked well on two levels, both of which were necessary. I loved the idea of taking a world where the implications are really worked out of "what if the world really worked the way that Victorian novels do?" But I also thought that within the story itself the characters and the plot worked in their own right. I suspect that if the book was only offering a gimmick about "Hey, look female dragons are really handicapped by their nature from doing things which male dragons do all the time!" then it would have got quite stale quite fast.
I also loved lots of little details and I would certainly like to know more about the world. (I believe that a sequel is in the works?) For example there was a brief mention of a "marriage market" which initially went completely over my head. Then I was ambushed by the realisation that in this world, a "marriage market" is probably not a metaphor. I'd love to see how it works, though I probably wouldn't enjoy being a part of it.
I must admit that it wasn't until we met the Yarge ambassador at the end that it occurred to me that the Yarge were actually humans. (For some reason I was picturing them as some kind of slimy amphibious newt-things), but it really reinforced the alien dragons world view that would reckon the distinctive thing as not the Yarge's shape, but the fact that they have neither scales or wings.
I would love to know more about the history -- I understand that the advantage of the Yarge over dragons is their weaponry, but presumably it has had to be very adapted before the dragons in the army could actually make use of it to overthrow the Yarge or in present day to defend their borders. (And speaking of the army, I'd like to see more of Alwad-- Sebeth refers to him as her awful cousin, but after so many years, how would she know? And really he seemed all right in the brief scene where we saw him.)
Can anybody suggest why the terrible and awesome symbols of the law are hearts and flowers? I guess that the heart in question is the beating bloody thing, but why flowers?
Something I didn't notice until my reread was about Sebeth's priest, Calien. That is also the name of the dragon who wrote the progressive book about servants which Lamerak gives Haner. What do you think? Same person or a coincidence? If it is not a coincidence, then what does that say about how many different ways the priests of the old religion are really pulling the strings in this world? (And we already know that Calien works among the very poor, so the fact that he might be involved in campaigning to change the whole social order shouldn't be too much of a surprise.)
It does occur to me that a lot of the plot turns on fortunate coincidences. That it is incredibly fortunate that Sebeth's father, not only wants to see her again, to make her his heir but actually approves of the old religion -- had he been a typical highborn dragon that could have soured the whole reconciliation scene. She is further fortunate that Avan is not upset by the issue either. Avan himself is fortunate that Daverak seems to go pretty much insane by the end -- if he hadn't attacked Haner, it would have been a lot harder to win the case against him. Haner herself is remarkably fortunate that her sister had found the hoard of treasure, otherwise she would very likely have found her entire dowry taken out from under her when Selendra blushed for Sher. And all of these people are very fortunate indeed that Sher is a big and powerful dragon and able to kill Daverak in a demonstration that might is right. Had Selendra fallen in love with a respectable, up and coming dragon of her brother's size, the outcome would have been very different. None of the "happy endings" are things that the central dragons have or could have achieved by their own skill, efforts or actions. They do not seem to be able to influence their own fates.
I'm not sure to what degree, or if at all, this is actually a flaw in the book, or whether it is something that reinforces the fact of just how much this is a ruthless world where people do not approach justice on equal terms and who you know and are allied to may be the only thing to save your skin, where virtue or being in the right will not.
Finally I thought about potential feminism in this world. Yes, this is a world where biology defines the place of both females and the poor (if you cannot eat dragon flesh, you will literally and physically remain small and powerless.) However it does seem to me that with the introduction, many centuries ago, of guns from the Yarge the whole situation does change. Once the technology exists, a female dragon's hands should surely become much more of an advantage than claws. If the gun is enough to keep the ambassador safe when surrounded by male dragons with claws, surely it can give the same advantage to a female dragon who also has the hands to use it.
So I postulate a band of radical females, coming together for mutual protection with smuggled Yarge guns, with the aim of defying their biology. They would shoot the largest male dragons (and therefore the most powerful and influential) who came after them from a distance and then eat the dragon flesh so they grew very large themselves. If they wanted to have clutches of eggs (rather than just recruiting to their ranks) they would prefer small males and keep them away from dragon flesh so that despite their claws they were unlikely to ever become a danger to the large powerful females. Of course, I see that there would be huge societal taboos to prevent this happening, but I don't see that the biology prevents it anymore; in fact once the technology is introduced, the female dragons' hands would be a biological advantage. (As I mentioned above, it does seem that dragons must have adopted guns to work with claws, but, just as with writing and the proliferation of female clerks, I still can't believe that claws are nearly as nimble as fingers.) So external influences may be forcing dragon evolution into dramatic changes-- I think the males should be very afraid.
I kept feeling that attempts at reform would be doomed, although I suspect that's my natural cynicism rather than anything suggested in the book.
It's an interesting question. Even the equivalent movements in the real 19th century were slow and often unfocussed and subject to setbacks, defeats & plain getting it wrong. But they still had great acheivements. So I guess the question is the degree to which the real biology of dragons stops that being possible. I think it would make things a lot harder, particularly because might is so much more obviously rewarded, but I find it hard to believe it would completely prevent them - the biology doesn't seem to create matching happy mental attitudes. Even at the start of the book, their lack of claws doesn't make Haner and Selendra happy with the roles society forces on them - it just means they can't conceive of another option.