The Story: The Legend of Beka Cooper gives Tamora Pierce’s fans exactly what they want—a smart and savvy heroine making a name for herself on the mean streets of Tortall’s Lower City—while offering plenty of appeal for new readers as well.
Beka and her friends will face their greatest and most important challenge ever when the young heir to the kingdom vanishes. They will be sent out of Corus on a trail that appears and disappears, following a twisting road throughout Tortall. It will be her greatest Hunt—if she can survive the very powerful people who do not want her to succeed in her goal. [Goodreads]
My Response: Though I enjoyed reading Terrier and Bloodhound well enough, I realize now that neither book truly connected me to Beka. I liked her, and I enjoyed reading about her, but I didn’t care deeply about her, not to the extent that I always have Alanna and Daine and Kel and Aly.
Now I care.
Mastiff opens in medias res, three years after the events of Bloodhound, with the burial of Beka’s betrothed, a Dog named Holburn. Yes, you read that correctly, no, I wasn’t prepared, and yes, I was immediately hooked. Pierce’s first person narrative finally comes into its own and shines as she captures the disorientation that accompanies any major loss, all without depicting Beka as weak.
This opening sets the tone for the rest of the book, and that tone is dark and tense. Beka, Tunstall, Lady Sabine, and newcomer Farmer Cape, a Kennel mage, track the kidnapped heir at a relentless pace, never sure of who they can trust other than each other. The rich detail of the Hunt is engrossing to the point of distraction, so that even as I realized I was approaching the Big Reveal, I couldn’t pin down just what it would be.
Of course, there are more than enough side plots to go around: Beka’s gradual recovery from Holburn’s death; Farmer Cape’s humorous antics; Tunstall’s relationship with Lady Sabine; an explanation for how slavery came to be illegal in the realm of Tortall; a romance that I legitimately enjoyed.
And then there’s the cult of the Gentle Mother, which in Beka’s time is only just beginning to gain popularity. Beka is baffled that anyone would take seriously the group’s talk of the delicacy of women and the corresponding need to keep them safe from the coarseness of the world, but we as readers know that this is the group that will ultimately put an end to Lady Knights like Sabine. Heartbreaking.
Honestly, I have only two (small) bones to pick with Ms. Pierce about this book:
One, I never stopped waiting for some true exposition about Beka’s relationship with Holburn. I realize that in the context of both the story and the style, the lack of exposition makes sense. Nevertheless, I continue to be frustrated by how few details are given about a relationship that was so clearly formative for Beka.
Two, the epilogue. It isn’t so bad as to make me reject Pierce’s Epilogue Writing Privileges (See: J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins), and I admit that my not-so-inner Tamora Pierce fangirl flailed a little bit while reading George Cooper’s journal entries, but at the same time, my more objective self couldn’t help but cringe in reaction to the severely high cheese factor. Mostly, I’m disappointed that something so clunky was stuck to the end of an otherwise tremendous book.
My Recommendation: Mastiff is everything that a prequel ought to be, and in case you couldn’t tell, I loved it. LOVED IT. And I may have cried straight through the last twenty or so pages, but never you mind about that. For longtime Tamora Pierce fans, this is a no-brainer. Read this book.
For those newer to Tamora Pierce, things get a bit more complicated. Mastiff is rich enough to stand on its own, but the big reveal will be less meaningful for those who haven’t followed Beka from the beginning. For this reason, I must insist you read both Terrier and Bloodhound before you sink your teeth into Mastiff. They may not dazzle quite so much, but I promise they’ll be worth your time in the end—when you read this book.
My Rating: ✶ ✶ ✶ ✶
(out of a possible 4)
Mastiff (Beka Cooper #3) / Tamora Pierce. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2011. US $10.99 (Kindle).