Tag Archives: Tortall

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten TuesdayCreated and hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme for those who love lists and want to get to know their fellow bloggers. Each week features a new theme, and anyone may participate. This week’s theme is…

Top Ten Favorite Books from My Childhood

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. My parents gave me a hardcover copy of this book when I was maybe five-years-old, which started my dad reading the entire series to me aloud, chapter by chapter, book by book, until one day, when I was six, I got impatient, and finished These Happy Golden Years while he was at work. I remember this clearly because it was the first chapter book I ever read on my own.

Meet Molly by Valerie Tripp. Sure, I read the other American Girl Doll books, but Molly’s were always my favorites. I can’t speak for the newer books, but those that accompanied the Molly and the other original dolls are incredibly well-written, especially when you consider that they were essentially accessories, and I have no doubt they laid the foundation for my ongoing love of U.S. history.

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. Even though I can no longer recall every specific of its plot, I continue to love this book. I went through a brief city planner phase as a result of Harriet’s habit of playing Town with Sport. And I can’t be the only one to have read this book and immediately start my own spy notebook, right? That’s what I thought.

Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry. Before I was old enough to appreciate just how good The Giver is, I loved Lowry’s Anastasia Krupnik books. I remember copying her idea of listing likes and dislikes in her journal (sadly, I do not remember what I included in said lists!), and for some reason, I think she is one of the more precocious heroines from my childhood favorites (which is saying something).

Martin the Warrior by Brian Jacques. I wish I could remember how I discovered the Redwall books, because I think they are the very first large scale fantasy I ever loved. I think I’ve read at least the first ten books, but I know that Martin the Warrior has always been my favorite. I’ve always had a thing for prequel stories, and Jacques is possibly the first author I read who was willing to kill a likable character, thus introducing me to bookish sadness.

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede. All those in favor of Cimorene, say aye! She’s a wonderful protagonist, and this is a wonderful book. I read my local library’s copies of it and the rest of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles over and over again, and in many ways, Wrede paved the way for my longstanding love affair tongue-in-cheek genre parodies and high(er) fantasy featuring kick ass female protagonists.

Matilda by Roald Dahl. Frankly, everything Roald Dahl has ever written (exception: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, etc.) belongs on this list, but out of all his books, Matilda is my all-time favorite. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Matilda Wormwood is every bookish child’s soulmate. She reads voraciously, in defiance of a family too stupid to keep up with her, and she’s smart to the point of psychic abilities.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi. One of my all-time favorite works of historical fiction, and with a swashbuckling heroine, to boot! I read and reread this book, in particular around the time that my homeschool group participated in a living history sleepover on a tall ship in the San Francisco Bay. (Getting to do things like that is just one of the many reasons that I loved being homeschooled.)

Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce. This wasn’t the first Tamora Pierce book I ever read. That honor belongs to Wild Magic. All the same, it wouldn’t be right for anyone other than Alanna to represent Tamora Pierce on this list. Having recently (re)read all 17 Tortall books, I know they stand the test of time, and at the end of the day, I can’t wait to share these books with a daughter of my own. I just hope she loves them as much as I do.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. I put this list together with a rough chronology in mind, beginning with the books my parents read aloud to me, and ending here, with the book that had the most impact on me as I transitioned from child to young adult. Ironically, I had little interest in reading it when my dad first bought me a copy. I had other new books that I was more interested in, that I read first. I don’t remember what they were, and anyway, it was my first copy of The Golden Compass that lost its cover from love and endless readings. To this day, it and its sequels are some of the best and most important books that I have ever read.

What about you? What are your favorite books from childhood, and why?

Book Review: Mastiff by Tamora Pierce

Mastiff by Tamora PierceThe 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).

Book Review: Bloodhound by Tamora Pierce

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.


Bloodhound by Tamora PierceThe 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).