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Review: ‘Mastiff’ by Tamora Pierce

March 5, 2013

Mastiff coverNow a full Provost Guard with four years under her belt, Beka Cooper has already made a name for herself among her comrades and the people of Tortall.  She’s known as a tough but fair enforcer of the Crown’s law.  So when a top-secret Hunt is given to her and her elite partner Tunstall by the Lord Provost Gershom, Beka is eager to seek and find the criminals.  Having just lost her fiancee, who was also a Dog, the Hunt offers a distraction from her feelings, and she embraces the opportunity to catch some dirty criminals–until she finds out the assignment.

Led to a destroyed palace along with Lord Gershom, Beka and Tunstall find out the crown prince has been kidnapped.  Along with Beka’s constellation cat, Pounce, and her scent hound, Achoo, the Dogs are partnered with a Provost mage who calls himself Farmer Cape.  Despite the seriousness of the situation, Farmer acts like a Player and–to use Beka’s word–a looby.  Can Beka and Tunstall work with Farmer to track the young prince and retrieve him in time?

In addition to seeking the prince, Beka realizes that when they find the boy, they’ll likely find the members of a conspiracy against the king and Tortall.  Treachery against the realm has Beka jumping at shadows and seeing traitors in every face–but are her fears unfounded?  Is there a traitor among her group keeping her from finding the prince?

My Thoughts: Wow!  I could not put this book down!  I read it straight through, except when I had to stop to see my family for dinner.  Other than that, I didn’t want to put it down for even a second.  I just had to know what happened next!

This book wraps up the story of Beka Cooper, a young Provost’s Guard from Corus.  The Guards, or Dogs, are her life and she has never wanted to be anything but a Dog.  Now that Goodwin took over Ahuda’s position as a watch sergeant, Beka is partnered with her other old training Dog, Tunstall.  She enjoys her work in the Lower City, bagging Rats and keeping the peace as well as she can.  So when Lord Gershom comes for her in the dead of night and summons her and her scent hound Achoo to the docks, it’s nothing truly unusual.  What is unusual is what they find at their destination, the summer palace of the king and queen.

A running issue in the book is slavery.  At this point in the timeline of Tortall, slavery is still legal and widely practiced.  Slavery is mentioned throughout the series, but as a side issue.  In this book, it comes to the fore as a main issue.  Some of the realities of slavery are difficult to read, but I don’t see it as a bad thing that these issues are tackled in YA fiction.  Just as long as they are handled in a way that young people can understand, and I think Pierce is wonderful at doing exactly that.  A level of emotion and drive is added to the story that may not have necessarily been there if Pierce had focused solely on Beka tracking the prince.  But I may be giving too much away . . . still, I think Pierce handles this very tough, emotional subject well, and it was not a deterrent to my enjoyment of the story.

I had no issues with the pacing of the events. And I feel that Beka still grows through the book, although her growth and development are not as obvious as in the first book.  I feel that Beka’s development was key in the first book, which makes sense, since it was the first book.  In this book, Beka has grown and matured.  She has learned from her mistakes and is at a point where she is focused almost solely on her job.  She still develops throughout the story, especially in the way she realizes her deeper emotions and in how she evaluates the trustworthiness of people, but her development is more easily seen on a broader scale over the series.  The characters who develop the most in this book, in my opinion, are Tunstall, Lady Sabine, and Farmer (because he’s new).  We see a very new side to both Tunstall and Lady Sabine by the end.

The end was a surprise.  I won’t tell you the twist, as that would seriously ruin everything, but it was very unexpected.  I feel that Pierce does a great job at setting it up but still leaving you wondering.  You start to get the hint that something isn’t quite right about halfway to 3/4 of the way through, and by the end you’re so ready to find out the answer that it’s just about killing you to read and not skip ahead.  The traitor is not who I expected it would be.  I had my money pegged on someone else the whole time.  I do feel that the rationale the traitor gives for the betrayal is a little bit suspect–it doesn’t quite seem to mesh with the character’s personality–but as is pointed out by the queen, when royal stakes are involved, people are more willing to do things they would never do in other circumstances.  Yes, I buy that explanation, because I think it’s true.  There are some circumstances that are more enticing or overwhelming than others.

The one thing that isn’t a surprise is that Beka lives.  When a book is written in first-person, and it’s a character’s journal, it’s about 95% certain that your main character isn’t going to die.  Unless the author has a very big twist up their sleeve, then they aren’t going to kill off the main character and start again from someone else’s view when the story is a first-person journal.  It’s just very unlikely, and not exactly easy.  So don’t worry that Beka dies–with the way the book is written, she kind of can’t die.

I give this one 5 stars for readability, excitement, characters, and that wonderful glued-to-the-pages feeling.

5 stars

Book info: 580 pages, published 2011, ISBN 9780375838187

Buy on Amazon * Author’s website * GoodReads

Copy is a personal copy

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