Mastiff by Tamora Pierce
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Reviews that start with, "First, let me say how much I love this author and this series..." are never good for a reader to see. Unfortunately, a lot of Beka and Tamora fans are going to be saying that.
As a standalone book this is amazing. A sort of Medieval Without A Trace. This is not a disappointing book, it is a different book.
First of all, do yourself a favor and read Terrier and Bloodhound first. They are wonderful stories and you will never be able to enjoy them the same once you've read Mastiff.
Beka is back and she is the same amazingly good, shy, loyal and incredibly intelligent young woman we all love and remember. Her surroundings have changed considerably though. She's pulled from the Lower City of Corus and thrust into the Northern wilds of Tortall in order to find the crown prince, a four year old who has been kidnapped in order to destroy and replace the monarchy.
Along comes trusty* Tunstall, her partner who is a wonderful sort of father/brother figure. Pounce and Achoo are along as well, providing much of the lightheartedness. Lady Sabine, who keeps a leash on Tunstall's moodiness. And a new character, Farmer Cape, a kennel mage from Blue Harbor who is either a complete fool, or the smartest one of all.
The good first:
Farmer Cape: A wonderful character! So well developed, so well thought out...he had me guessing in the first 50 or so pages, but once I got him I instantly loved him. He's a rascal that one, but a really good guy at the core. I think this is possibly the best character that Tamora has ever written, replacing Nawat and Nealan in my affections.
Gershom: The main father figure for Beka, and a great man he is. We don't see a lot of him, as per usual, but everytime you see him he's so in character that you love him. It was because he vouched for Farmer that I could trust a new mage.
The bad guys: They are seriously bad. I mean really. I was impressed and sickened by the zeal with which they killed things. Younger audiences will likely need supervision reading this, because if their imaginations are good this could induce nightmares. Holes blown in castles, people being melted, eaten by bugs and flies, strangled and left for dead wherever they are killed. Bloody I tell you.
I liked the pacing in this book too. I have read that some felt it too slow, others too fast, but I'm happily in the middle. It felt realistic in length, and I'm glad there's over 500 pages. The Hunt was vvery real, and quite frustrating at times, but that is what makes Tamora so good. That and how compelling her characters are.
The Epilogue is genius and totally makes me want to read Song of the Lioness again, even though I recently finished it (for the sixth time).
I was firmly in Camp Rosto and have been terribly disappointed in this respect during the last two books. I really wish he had been more in the mix. That being said, I think Farmer was a much better choice for Beka. They are highly complimentary personalities and it will not try her honor to be with him as it would with Rosto, King of Thieves.
Tunstall: Heart=broken. I love, love LOVE Tunstall and the twist just shattered me. I was really hoping that Beka was wrong about a traitor among the four of them, but I should have realized that couldn't be so. I would have been more comfortable with it being Sabine whom I never liked much. I think the fact that this twist has inspired such passionate reactions is likely the work of genius, but I am too close to the event to see clearly. All I know is how much I love Tunstall and how completely out of character his actions were in this book. I also think Beka should have been even more broken up, but realize perhaps she did not wish to dwell on that in her writing.
I do not believe that I will be able to read Terrier and Bloodhound again for some time though, as I will constantly be looking at Tunstall with disbelief and shock.
This book was much different from Tamora's other writings, but the Beka Cooper books have been different from the beginning, having a much more police-show orient than medieval lords and ladies feel. I reallly did love it, but I am still trying to get over Tunstall.
I think the hallmark of a good series is this though: I wish there was another book coming!
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