The World: Provost’s Dog is set in Tortall… 200 years before the events of the Alanna books. Whoa, right? Tortall is still relatively the same… except that slavery is legal, female knights don’t have to hide their gender to earn their shields and the city of Corus is guarded by a troop of police officers called “Dogs.”
The Plot: 16 year old Beka is a Provost’s Dog in training. She’s done with her lessons and her training, and she’s about to start her year as a “Puppy” in the dirty, dangerous Lower City district–the same district where she was raised. Beka will follow around two seasoned Dogs: Matthias Tunstall and Clara Goodwin on their rounds. Her mission is to keep her head down, learn good Dog work and graduate to be a full-fledged Dog in a year. But that’s not going to happen, because when do things ever go the way a Tamora shero wants them to go?
Beka is drawn into two different investigations: the Shadow Snake, who steals poor Lower City children for ransom… and sometimes leaves corpses instead of children if his demands aren’t met. She also finds herself caught in the middle of a series of serial murders: diggers who are hired to find fire opals in the basement of Lower City houses. The more Beka investigates the separate cases, the more she realizes that they’re, in fact, related. As the body count rises, can Beka find out who is killing the diggers? And with a growing number of children, can she find the Shadow Snake and bring him to justice?
The Characters: At 16, Beka Cooper is as badass and tough as Alanna is at 20. That’s a lot of badassery. Beka is wonderful because she’s quiet and shy, but not timid. She doesn’t like to talk to people she doesn’t know (hell, she doesn’t even like to talk to Goodwin or Tunstall), but that doesn’t mean she can’t handle herself or do good Dog work. She’s the best of both worlds–a tough, warrior introvert. Doesn’t get any better than that.
Rosto the Piper is a thief (and an attractive one at that), but he’s not just a George-clone. He’s a little scarier, a little more violent, and a little more charming. Not that Beka notices. Well, she tries not to notice, but she’d have to be blind.
Goodwin and Tunstall are wonderful mentors for Beka. They leave her to her own devices for the most part, and spend most of their shift teasing each other and chasing rats (criminals) in the Lower City. They teach Beka mostly by example, and she thrives under their guidance.
The Good: Beka is adorable. She’s quiet, but she’s fierce. Her animal companions (a Tamora Pierce staple) consist of a flock of pigeons that carry the ghosts of dead people and a black, purple-eyed, talking cat named Pounce. Wait, what? Yeah, that’s right: good ol’ Faithful makes an appearance as Beka’s mystical pet. He’s glorious, as always.
The Bad: It’s ironic–Beka is the only character who absolutely, 100% has to have children. I mean, she’s George’s great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother (give or take a few greats). That means someone’s going to charm the pants off her (literally), and have a child with her. But there’s not a lot of romance in Terrier. Rosto flirts with her, but Beka’s not interested in canoodling with a thief–she’s a Dog, after all. I like Beka because her mind is sharp and she’s quiet, like me, but I do wish there was a little more romance.
I’m also not crazy about the diary/journal style of Beka’s books, but then I never have been. I dutifully read the Dear America books (and a couple of the Royal Diary books, setting off a life-long obsession with Versailles) like most middle school kids, but it’s never been my favorite style of writing.
The Verdict: Beka is definitely a horse of a different color. The police work sets this book apart from the other Tamora Pierce novels–in the same way Aly’s espionage sets her series apart). It’s also a cool way to learn about the even-more-distant history of the Medieval-era Tortall.
In the end, however, Beka isn’t my favorite shero, and her books don’t grab me in the same way Kel, Daine and Alanna’s do. There’s less magic and less romance, and in the end the entire book feels more like a really long episode of Criminal Minds or Law and Order: Medieval England than a classic Tamora Pierce book. Worth the read, but not my favorite.