In early June, my parents sent me a link to The Atlantic’s interview with Tamora Pierce, and, if I remember correctly, my joyous response to Pierce’s comments about family, birth control, and the need for female heroes in YA literature was something along the lines of, “Excuse me – I need to (re)read everything this woman has ever written. Immediately.”
Five months later, I’ve finished (re)reading all 17 titles set in the Tortall universe, and because Bloodhound is the first of these to be entirely new to me, it seems fitting that its review be the starting point for this blog.
The Story: Beka Cooper is finally a Dog—a full-fledged member of the Provost’s Guard, dedicated to keeping peace in Corus’s streets. But there’s unrest in Tortall’s capital. Counterfeit coins are turning up in shops all over the city, and merchants are raising prices to cover their losses. The Dogs discover that gamblers are bringing the counterfeit money from Port Caynn. In Port Caynn, Beka delves deep into the gambling world, where she meets a charming banking clerk named Dale Rowan. Beka thinks she may be falling for Rowan, but she won’t let anything—or anyone—jeopardize her mission. As she heads north to an abandoned silver mine, it won’t be enough for Beka to be her usual “terrier” self. She’ll have to learn from Achoo to sniff out the criminals—to be a Bloodhound…. [Goodreads]
My Response: It’s not easy to find the excitement in counterfeiting, but Pierce puts forth an admirable effort that pays off in the long run. The gradual yet uncontrollable effect that the coles (counterfeit coins) have on the Tortallan economy, beginning in the poorest neighborhoods and spreading outward, is truly horrifying, and Pierce does a good job of making the stakes understandable. Her cast of supporting characters is lively, and her descriptions of the Port Caynn docks, gambling dens, and eating houses are alternately gritty and fun.
Oh, and the punishment for colemongering? Death by boiled oil? No, thank you!
That said, there’s less narrative tension here than in earlier Tortall books, mostly because the main antagonist is revealed early and obviously. Add to this the absence of Tunstall and Pounce, whose wit and snark are needed to balance Beka’s serious approach to nearly everything she does, and it’s not surprising how noticeable Bloodhound’s significant length (560pp.) is throughout. More than once, I checked my progress only to think, Whoa. I have that much left?
Beka’s partnership with the scent-hound Achoo is cute, as well as typical—most of Pierce’s heroines bond at least as easily with animals as they do with humans—and the dog clearly has her part to play in the resolution of the story. However, even for a dog, she’s underdeveloped, and I couldn’t help but think she’d been brought in to haplessly tug our heartstrings first, move the story along second.
Though it doesn’t rank among my all-time favorite Tamora Pierce books, Bloodhound is a definite improvement over Terrier, which left little to no impression on me when I first read it in 2006. The first-person narrative feels less contrived, and Beka’s voice more fully realized, which I assume is due to Pierce herself growing more comfortable with the style. As a result, Beka’s growth and maturation from Puppy to Dog is that much more believable.
From what I’ve read on Goodreads, there’s been some negative response to Beka’s sexual activity, to which I say, Get over it. Teenagers have sex, and not always as responsibly as 17-year-old Beka—to be honest, one of my favorite moments of the entire story is her shy visit to the Healer’s to purchase a pregnancy charm, because let’s be honest: we’ve all been there, in one way or another. I might not rush to give this book to, say, a 10-year-old with limited understanding of life and relationships, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to readers in their mid-teens who almost assuredly know what sex is.
As for Okha Soyan/Amber Orchid: transgendered people exist, and the more honestly we portray the world and its people in books for young adults, the better for us all, so again, Get over it. Frankly, I’m surprised and a little disappointed that it took Pierce as long as it did to explicitly write queer characters into the Tortall universe.
My Recommendation: Long-time fans of Tamora Pierce are unlikely to be significantly disappointed, especially with so many nods to names and places that have appeared in the past (future). I myself flailed with happiness upon learning the origin of The Dancing Dove’s name.
However, for readers new to Tortall, Beka’s story could be hit or miss. Those looking for a more typical fantasy heroine would be best served by starting with Alanna: The First Adventure (Song of the Lioness #1), or possibly First Test (Protector of the Small #1) (though I hate to recommend books out of order).
On the other hand, those who love detective stories (Veronica Mars, Law & Order, etc.) will likely enjoy reading a YA novel that features a quieter, more cerebral heroine, one who cares less for glory and more for simply getting the job done, one day and one clue at a time.
My Rating: ✶ ✶ ✶
(out of a possible 4)
Bloodhound (Beka Cooper #2) / Tamora Pierce. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2009. US $9.99 (Kindle).