The Plot: Beka’s been a Dog for four years now, and she’s becoming a better Dog every year. Lots of other stuff has changed for Beka: she was (unhappily) engaged to Holburn, a fellow Dog, until his untimely death before the book begins. Beka fell out of love with Holburn before his death, so she struggles with her guilt and lack of sorrow. Luckily for Beka (and unluckily for everyone else in Tortall), she, Achoo and Tunstall are called to the King’s summer palace for an urgent mission: someone has kidnapped the toddler prince, Gareth.
Beka and her friends are joined on the hunt by the clever, silly mage Farmer Cape. But will Beka and her team find the prince alive? Why would someone kidnap a toddler? Is the entire nation of Tortall in danger? And is there a traitor in their midst? Beka has a hard time trusting the people around her, but she must trust someone if she wants to find the prince alive and stop a brewing civil war.
The Characters: The only new character introduced is the Dog mage Farmer Cape. Oh, Farmer Cape. Much like Beka herself, Farmer snuck up and stole my heart. I entered Mastiff as a really, really (really) strong Beka/Rosto shipper, but I fell in love with Farmer in the end–much like Beka. Farmer is sweet and playful; he’s kind of the exact opposite of serious, shy Beka. However, Beka and Farmer share one very important thing that she and Rosto don’t: their moral compass. Rosto’s a rat! He’s the king of thieves! Just because Beka’s six-times great grandson was also the king of thieves doesn’t mean Rosto is a good person for Beka to end up with long-term. Farmer, however, is a good, solid man and he and Beka will create a good, solid life together. Plus he took her last name, so you know he’ll never push Beka around. (As though he could. But you know Rosto would try).
The Good: Is there anything more awesome than the suspense and chase created by a kidnapping case? Probably, but I can’t think of anything at the moment. Add in Farmer Cape, Tunstall (for the first half of the book, anyway) and plenty of Achoo, there are lots of good things about this book.
The Bad: Here’s the thing. There is nothing I hate more, as a fangirl, than thinking that I’ve missed something important. Like… say… an entire relationship between the main character and the man she was engaged to. I literally went back to my copy of Bloodhound and flipped through it, trying to find a reference to Holburn, but there is none. Am I supposed to be sad that he’s dead? Beka’s not sad. It’s Bunheads all over again. Why bother giving Beka a fiancé we never meet, who dies before they get married, who Beka barely mourns because she fell out of love with him long before his death?
Spoilers! There’s also a huge moment at the end of the book when Tunstall, who is a beloved and wonderful character, betrays Beka and the king, and then dies, thus breaking my poor little heart into a million pieces. Dying was bad enough, but betraying his country–even to make money so he could marry Sabine, his lady knight–is just… absolutely horrible. It’s on par with Lupin leaving Tonks behind, all pregnant and sad, to go run off and find Horcruxes with Harry, and at least Lupin went back to Tonks so he could fight and die alongside her. Tunstall just died on the hunt with Beka. End spoilers!
The Verdict: Beka’s books as a whole are not my favorite series, and I would have to say that Mastiff is my second least favorite of them all (Bloodhound is my least favorite, because, come on, counterfeit coins are nothing compared to a mass murder or a freaking kidnapped prince! So much more dramatic!). It’s upsetting, because I feel that the Trickster’s series and the last two books in Protector of the Small are some of Tamora’s strongest works.
I think (my) problem is that Beka is a different breed of shero. She’s a cop and a detective, not a knight and a soldier. There’s less romance, which would be fine… in a book written by someone who hasn’t made a point of including some truly spectacular romance in her previous works. It would be like reading a Sarah Dessen book that isn’t about a teenaged girl embarking on a tumultuous personal journey. It’s why I read her books–for the strong female characters, yes, but also for the men they love (and lose, and love again).
Objectively, I love what Tamora Pierce did with Beka’s books. She gave us insight into Tortall’s past–and George’s past–which was wonderful and enlightening. In the execution, however, I think I was expecting more from Tamora’s past as a writer. I love that she’s growing, and I can understand why she’d want to distance herself from being “that author that writes teen fantasy romance” (even though that’s an AWESOME thing to be known for), but the 13 year old girl inside me still yearns for the Tamora Pierce I grew up with.
Tamora Tuesday is taking a month-long break so that I can catch up on The Circle of Magic books, most of which I haven’t read since I was 12. Hold tight, catch up on your reading, and join me for the next phase in Tamora Tuesday, as we leave Tortall behind for the magical country of Emelan and Winding Circle!