Mastiff by Tamora Pierce (Beka Cooper #3)

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.

CHARACTER SPOILERS

Dear Tamora Pierce,

Thank you for existing. Thank you for writing the books you do. Thank you for writing books that changed my life, made me a lifelong fantasy reader, and have become an irrevocable part of my identity, past, present, and future. I tend not to get overly sentimental when it comes to the actual physical books. It is extremely rare that I will finish a book, hug it to my chest, and proceed to make happy noises to express my joy. Guess what I did to Mastiff?

How do I even begin talking about this book? There is no way in which I can be objective and impartial. I love her books too much, I’ve become so emotionally invested and attached to them that a criticism directed towards them is like a criticism directed towards my best friend – it may be true, but I’ll still defend their honor no matter what. The bottom line is you should read this post with a *huge* amount of salt.

Beka isn’t my favorite Tamora Pierce heroine (that honor goes jointly to Kel and Daine) but reading this book reminded me just how much of a badass she is. She may be quiet and keep herself to herself, but she takes absolutely no shit from anyone. She does her job with a dedication that puts practically everyone else to shame, and she does it well. I love reading about protagonists who are amazingly adept at what they do, and Beka is nothing but adept. Not only that, but the manner in which she performs her work showcases the intensity and seriousness with which she takes it. Everyone who knows her is wary of her glare with her ghost-gray eyes, as that means she’s about to, literally, cut a bitch for breaking the law. It was so refreshing and relaxing to read about Beka because here was one instance in which I didn’t have to worry about accurate or acceptable portrayals of powerful female characters – I know Tamora Pierce will do it right because that’s what she does.

It did take me a couple hundred pages to get into the flow of the book. The plot starts within the first ten pages and in that first third portion, character interactions revolve more around routine Hunt procedure, which, combined with Beka’s sparse journal style, did make me feel distanced from what was actually going on. Once the outlines of the conspiracy became clearer and intrigue became more a part of the plot, I found my footing and the reading was as enjoyable as it could possibly be.

Even with my above complaint about Beka’s journal voice, after I was finished reading, all I could do was appreciate how effective it was. She records only what’s necessary to the Hunt at hand, and that means whatever she records, it’s mostly what she’s thinking at that present moment, rather than remembering the past or thinking about the future. With this style, Beka ends up saying a lot more than she actually writes. She rarely mentions her deceased fiancé, but what she does write about him, combined with what she leaves out, makes it clear that her relationship with him was a lot more problematic than most people knew. This sort of writing means that I take whatever Beka has to say seriously, because if she decided it was worth recording, there’s also a lot more emotion, sentiment, or meaning behind the thought than is readily apparent.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t particularly invested in the growing relationship between Beka and Farmer. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a total sweetheart and the two of them match up pretty well in the end. The last journal entry in which they’re together is so “aww”-worthy that I would have rolled my eyes if they weren’t so goddamned cute. However, for some reason, Farmer didn’t feel as sketched out as a character as I expected him to be and I can’t put my finger on why. He was not written in such a way that he fully came alive. With other Tamora Pierce romances, the characters had developed some form of preexisting relationship over a couple of books. Given that Farmer was only just introduced in this book, it was difficult for me to care about Beka’s attraction towards him because I only had this book to get to know him rather than a whole series. I did really like the multiple, creative ways he was able to use his Gift that was so different from the usual flashy, big explosions manner most mages use their Gifts, in this book and in others.

I completely dug the plot, mostly because it was something different. I was annoyed that the plot of Bloodhound shared too many similarites with that of Terrier, but with Mastiff, the problem is much more serious, the prey are powerful and dangerous, and the stakes are higher than they’ve ever been before. The prince’s kidnapping doesn’t just affect the monarchs and nobles – his fate will have consequences for every single person in Tortall. I loved how the Hunt for the prince tied into the overall slave trade and how the Hunt spotlighted the issue, which was written in and honest and unflinching manner. There’s so much empathy shown for every person who’s been caught in the web of slavery or poverty and how their very identity is erased as they become toys or inconveniences for the nobles to do away with however they wish. And that’s really what the heart of the conflict is – how much is human life really worth and who determines its worth? The issue of whether mages should pay taxes like everyone else felt particularly relevant to current events. Really, a constant theme in Tamora Pierce’s books is that everyone is a human being and deserves to be treated as such, no matter their class, gender, race, profession, or anything else, and the way in which each character is written fully embodies this sentiment. And if the final resolution is too perfect and unrealistic, I can’t bring myself to care all that much because it’s written with so much hope and happiness.

At the end of the day, I can’t help but feel love and affection for this book. Reading a book by Tamora Pierce is like revisiting an old friend. And these are who the characters in Mastiff are, for all that most of them were only introduced in this series. I’m going to miss Beka and her cohorts so much. The fact that Beka is George’s ancestress and Pounce will one day be Alanna’s Faithful makes my heart clench a little when I think about it. I’ve grown up with this world, with the people in it, all from different generations and different backgrounds, and I absolutely love how they all connect back to each other to make up the complex tapestry that is this world’s history.

Like I said, I can’t be objective. Even though I’ve noted the things I wasn’t crazy about, it’s easy for me to overlook them. I can see people having problems with the romance (I’ve already seen grumbles about it on the internet) and the huge plot twist involving a certain character, and I understand why those things would detract from their enjoyment of the book. But for me, it’s still Tamora Pierce, it’s still Beka Cooper, and it’s still this wonderful, wonderful family of people she’s created and the world they inhabit. I don’t have the proper words to say how much Tamora Pierce’s books mean to me. Suffice to say, she is my J.R.R. Tolkein. She’s why I read what I read. That’s all there is to it.

Disclosure – library

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One thought on “Mastiff by Tamora Pierce (Beka Cooper #3)

  1. Pingback: End of the Year Post, 2011 Edition « Lost in a Good Book

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