Review: Mastiff by Tamora Pierce

Mastiff by Tamora Pierce (The Beka Cooper Trilogy, #3)

October 2011, Random House Children’s Books

Young Adult fantasy

Three years have passed since Beka Cooper almost died in the sewers of Port Caynn, and she is now a respected member of the Provost’s Guard. But her life takes an unexpected turn when her fiancé is killed on a slave raid. Beka is faced with a mixture of emotions as, unbeknownst to many, she was about to call the engagement off.

It is as Beka is facing these feelings that Lord Gershom appears at her door. Within hours, Beka; her partner, Tunstall; her scent hound, Achoo; and an unusual but powerful mage are working on an extremely secretive case that threatens the future of the Tortallan royal family, and therefore the entire Tortallan government. As Beka delves deeper into the motivations of the criminals she now Hunts, she learns of deep-seated political dissatisfaction, betrayal, and corruption. These are people with power, money, and influence. They are able to hire the most skilled of mages, well versed in the darkest forms of magic. And they are nearly impossible to identify.

This case–a Hunt that will take her to places she’s never been–will challenge Beka’s tracking skills beyond the city walls, as well as her ability to judge exactly whom she can trust with her life and her country’s future.

 Let me start off by saying that Book One of this series, Terrier, is one of my all-time favorites. It was exemplary in characters, action, and plot. Beka was ineffably believable in this volume, along with the rest of the cast. Things only went downhill a little in Bloodhound, as the plot got a bit less intriguing, but it was still an excellent book. In Mastiff, most of all the wonderful things about Terrier are lost. Beka seems an entirely different person, changed so much over three years that she is not at all recognizable as the shy but street-smart Lower City trainee of the first book.

The plot is well laid in Mastiff, and once all the pieces are put together, the horrible truth does make sense. However, the story is grandiose to the point of being obnoxious: instead of tracking down kidnappers and counterfeiters in cases staying within city walls, Beka gallops across the realm, dealing with various noble houses and overall getting involved in things much bigger than she is. This sort of story may appeal to many, but it’s jarringly different from the first two books of the series. It might have been more tolerable for me if it had moved along a bit faster–it wasn’t until the final hundred pages or so that I began reading at more than a snail’s pace.

Beka wasn’t the only character who changed in this book. Favorites from prior volumes, such as the classic trio of “rushers,” Aniki, Kora, and Rosto, were all but nonexistent in Mastiff. As Beka expands her horizons, the wonderful world of the Lower City created in Terrier disappears in readers’ sights. It was, frankly, depressing, and the final pages left me discontented and disappointed.

Tamora Pierce, however, continues using her well-earned trademarks of strong female protagonists, intricate plots, and scrupulous description in Mastiff. Glimpses of Beka’s former life are breaths of fresh air throughout the story. Call me an old softy, but Pierce could have done better to stick with the Corus area and her fantastic older characters throughout this otherwise wonderful series.

Rating: 3 stars

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