[ Book Review ] Time travel in Tortall

Book Review: Terrier and Bloodhound by Tamora Pierce 

Audiobooks read by Susan Denaker

At the time of writing this, I have five tabs open:

  1. Canarypost email
  2. This review draft
  3. Amazon: Mastiff by Tamora Pierce
  4. Goodreads: Mastiff by Tamora Pierce
  5. Random House Site: Mastiff by Tamora Pierce.

It comes out Oct 25, 2011, by the way. It’s also the third book in Tamora Pierce’s newest series set in country of Tortall with a brand new character, Beka Cooper.

I grew up on Tamora Pierce’s fantasy novels, so when I saw the first book (Terrier) and second book (Bloodhound) available in audiobook, it was a done deal I’d get them:

Terrier 

Growing up in the slums of Tortall’s capital, Beka’s always wanted to be on the Provost’s Guard–one of the dogs who catches baddies and brings them to justice. Now she’s a trainee, told to keep her head down and learn from her assigned senior pair. But there’s a child-snatcher preying on the poorest of the city, and no one seems to care. Slum kids disappear all the time, after all.

Beka intends to do something about that.

Bloodhound

Beka’s a full dog now–and on her fourth partner. Even as she struggles to find her place in the guard and a partner she can stand, the city is roiling. Bad harvests mean higher prices, and with the counterfeit coins flooding the market, that may be the least of the city’s worry. Beka finds herself traveling to a new city to scent out the source of the bad money. What she finds is a tangle of conspiracy involving dogs, rats, and nobles alike.

What I loved:

The books are written as Beka’s journals, which makes for engaging reading, especially as the story stays very aware of the medium it uses–it stokes tension by skipping days, writing less or more depending on how Beka’s reacting to her day’s events, and using the journal construction to full advantage.

The fact that I picked up the series in audiobook format makes me the happiest bookworm ever. Reader Susan Denaker made for a fantastic performance. She brought the journal alive, as if Beka is truly narrating–exhausted after a long day, excited at a breakthrough, furious with an investigation that’s going nowhere, and despairing as more ghosts flock to her, their murders unsolvable.

As the main character, Beka has the force of character I’m used to seeing in Pierce’s books. Her job and inexperience leave her open to a great range of adventure  and disasters, and her shyness sets her up for quite a few mortified journal entries. It is all sorts of goodness.

On the other hand, I’ve included a table of Beka’s strengths and weaknesses to illustrate a slightly different point. However, I think Pierce sensed where this trend was going. In Bloodhound, Beka’s advantages are pruned away until she’s forced to stand on her own two feet.

What I loved even more:

image by Eliza Kinchington

A bit part of what brought me back to Tamora Pierce’s world after so many years was fact that Terrier and Bloodhound takes us back into Tortall’s history. Tamora Pierce takes us 200 years back–long before Alanna breaks all sorts of social convention by becoming a female knight and falls into a love triangle between a Prince and a Prince of Thieves.

At the same time, we have lots of delightful cameo appearances from well-loved characters. Alanna’s cat, Faithful, reappears with his bright purple eyes but a different name. We learn that one of George Cooper’s ancestors was, of all things, a guardwoman, and we get to meet the famous Lady Knights who have long died out by the time Alanna decides she wants to serve the realm with sword and shield.

At the same time, you don’t actually have to know any of the above. This series works just as well as a stand-alone.

What I really loved even more:

But what really, really won me over was that, despite her genre, Tamora Pierce consistently maintains an element of realism in her books. There is precious little in the way of brushing over uncomfortable realities of a medieval world. Beka’s city has knights, kings–and everything that entails. The police are corrupt more often than not, many times drunk, openly taking bribes, and serving the rich and political. Torture is used to get confessions. Taking people in often involves beating them liberally with batons.

This is what policing used to be–and in some places, still is. As a history and politics buff, I adore fantasy that sets its feet firmly in the reality of the society it creates.

I can’t wait for Mastiff.

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