Book Review: Mastiff by Tamora Pierce

Posted January 26, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 4 Comments

Book Review: Mastiff by Tamora Pierce

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Mastiff by Tamora Pierce
Series: ,
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Published by Random House on October 25, 2011
Pages: 596
Format: Hardcover
Source: the library


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 country's future.

Also by this author: Terrier, Bloodhound, Sandry's Book, Tris's Book, Daja's Book, Briar's Book, Magic Steps, Street Magic, Cold Fire

Third and last in the Beka Cooper fantasy series (and third in the overall Tortall series) for middle grade readers and revolving around a young woman Dog, a policewoman of her day. This particular day begins with June 6, 249 H.E. — it’s been three years since Bloodhound, 2.

My Take

This was absolutely brilliant! Pierce is such an excellent writer, you really can’t go wrong in having your children read anything by Pierce. Trust me on this. There are, however, two things I hate about Mastiff. One is that it’s the last I’ll get to read about Beka Cooper and the second is its ending.

It’s been an odd journey, reading about people as Dogs, that’s the police to you and I. Pierce has never made any fuss about the “police” in Corus before, so it’s an alien-seeming focus. It’s almost odder that this series has been about Tortall, as it hasn’t seemed to have a connection to the later Tortall subseries I’ve read. It does make me want to re-read from the beginning to see where that change comes about. I’m thinking that the Gentle Mother religion took hold somehow. It does not make it any less excellent.

I do love that men and women are treated equally in Tortall. Yes, it can be uneven, but women are in the navy, the Dogs, wherever they choose to be.

In this particular story, there’s a major conflict with the mages of the kingdom, for the king wants to tax and license them like regular folk. It’s led to rebellious actions for it has come at a time when the nobles have been stirring against the king. He’s been cutting into what they see as their prerogatives AND having the nerve to spend the kingdom’s money on…poor people.

It’s kidnappings and murders, torture and betrayal. An awful combination. Yes, I did say this was brilliant, and it is despite the horribleness of its topic.

“To me, that noble honor is a wonderful thing. I see folk put it on and take it off all the time, and no one ever notices how wrinkled it gets.”

Hmm, it seems there are reasons that Lord Gershom is trusted with this disaster. It’s also interesting that King Roger began to take an interest in his kingdom when he married Jessamine. She’d been raised to take an interest in the running of the realm. And, as Pierce points out, no man likes to look a fool.

“‘It might seem so to you, Beka.’ Her mouth curled down bitterly. ‘In your boots, it would to me as well. But for some of us, it is a garment that is the same as our own skin, impossible to take off and live.'”

We get some past history from Pounce, 3,000 years ago!, about some of the lands the team travels through.

Clever, clever Beka who manages to get out of wearing a stupid dress to conform to the Queensgrace inhabitants’ ideas of proper mode for women, per their Gentle Mother codswallop. Beka sees it as stripping fighting women of the symbols of their battles. Jesus, I can’t believe the insults lobbed at their own cousin by the Queensgrace people. It’s weird that Baird appears to be in on their plans, but then helps them to leave the castle when that jerkoff of a count continues his lady’s insults.

I DO like that Farmer. He’s such a cheeky boy who enjoys tweaking the noses of snobby jerks, and he’s very careful to hide his abilities. He can’t do the higher magics, but dang, he is good at what he can do. He has a good philosophy about his abilities. That he can help on a Hunt or with the Dogs, to keep the balance in the world. All are characteristics so contrary to Holborn, qualities that appeal to our idealistic Beka. It’s a slow and odd sort of courtship. That list that Beka creates in her mind is a good one for any person to hold to their own hearts as a check of what a good partner is.

Pounce has always been a strange character with Pierce’s hints of his origins, the peeks at his powers, his vague and veiled pronouncements. He rarely takes an active part in protecting Beka, but in Mastiff, he decides to ignore the rules laid on him and brings Achoo back to life. Seems the god Mithros loves to see Achoo work.

It’s a terrible betrayal yet to come. One that made me weep.

Then there’s the epilogue by George Cooper, Beka’s descendant, writing in his own journal in 430 H.E., not quite 200 years later of his ma stitching him up after a battle, for George is the Rogue now, and it’s just after that initial meeting in Alanna: The First Adventure, 1 (& 4). And his mother’s goddess visits him with prophecies when a purple-eyed cat takes some of his memories. A final note is of a young lad he’s met, an Alan of Trebond…

I am curious to learn more about what happened to George’s mother and how they descended to these desperate straits after the rewards that were heaped upon Farmer and Beka at the end of Mastiff.

The Story

Holborn’s funeral is well attended, even Beka’s informants among the city pigeons pay their respects. It’s a hard thing grief, especially when guilt is such a large part of it. It seems that only Pounce and Rosto knew the truth about Beka and Holborn.

Beka hasn’t long to dwell on her grief before Lord Gershom needs her for a secret mission. The king has need of the best.

The Characters

Guardswoman Rebakah “Beka” Cooper still lives in Mistress Trout‘s lodgings in Nipcopper Close in Corus. Holborn Shaftstall was Beka’s betrothed and a fellow Dog; Ahern Walker had been his partner on that last raid. Granny Fern Cooper is Beka’s grandmother and psychopomp mentor. Her sisters and brothers had loved Holborn, especially Dorine. Her brother Nilo is a palace courier; Willes is a saucy lad. Mya Fane is her foster aunt and Gershom’s cook. Pounce is her “cat”, a constellation and not a god, thank you very much. Achoo Curlypaws is her scent hound who is in great demand.

Farmer Cape is a young Provost’s mage from Blue Harbor assigned to this Hunt with a gift for raising the images of something that’s buried and a skill at embroidery. He also has a low tolerance for jerky behavior. Master Seabreeze was on of his teachers; Mistress Cassine Catfoot is yet another, a very highly rated mage who cares nothing for power and glory. Master Looseknot is the mage who caught Farmer playing with spells to entertain his sisters in his mother’s shop.

The Dogs are also the Provost’s Guards
Senior Guardsman Matthias “Mattes” Tunstall has been Beka’s working partner (he calls Pounce bestaka, an endearment from his country) since Bloodhound, 2; he’s still with the Lady Sabine of Macayhill, a knight of the court. And he still loves gardening. Drummer is my lady’s destrier and Steady is her riding mount. Sergeant Goodwin has been working the evening watch as a desk sergeant. Lord Gershom of Haryse is both the Provost of the kingdom, Beka’s ultimate boss, her mentor, and the head of her foster family. Lady Teodorie is Gershom’s wife and dislikes Beka for too many reasons. Sir Acton of Fenrigh is Beka’s district commander. Nyler Jewel and Yoav are fellow senior Dogs; Ersken Westover is of Beka’s year and Kora’s lover.

Beka’s friends include:
Rosto the Piper is King of the Rogues and in love with Beka. Kora Ingensra is a mage who knows something of healing, Aniki Forfrysning is a swordswoman and a rusher, and Phelan is a former Dog who joined the Court of the Rogue after events in Terrier, 1. Her childhood friend, Tansy, and her husband, Herun, are there as were Beka’s foster family from the Provost’s House.

The royal family
Queen Jessamine is King Roger II‘s second wife. Queen Alysy was his first. Seems Jessamine is keeping him from straying better than Alysy. Prince Gareth is their four-year-old son. Ironwood of Sinthya is His Majesty’s mage while Orielle Clavynger is Her Majesty’s mage; they are forbidden to be more than 100 yards away from the king or queen. Lunedda was the prince’s nurse. Mistress Fea was his mage. Tassilo was one of the guards who protected the young prince. Prince Baird is the king’s brother and former heir.

Captain Elfed was part of the King’s Own who accompanied their Majesties to the welcome party. Nond is one of the guards. Hereward of Genlith has taken command of the palace in Corus with orders to lock everyone down. EVERYone.

Port Caynn
Sir Tullus is the deputy provost at Port Caynn (since events in Bloodhound). Sergeant Axman was the guard who had helped them in Bloodhound. Beka and Tunstall will be staying at Serenity‘s Ladyshearth Lodgings again. Ginmaree is one of her runners. Sergeant Nestor Haryse is a Dog and a bastard cousin to Lord Gershom as well as Okha Soyan‘s lover, a crossdressing singer who insist that Farmer and Beka join them for supper. Iceblade Regengar is a graduate of Carthak University — his gift is in wind and weather magic, so he’s a mage on a peregrine ship — and Farmer can’t stand him for some very good reasons.

The dust spinner Beka visits in Corus is Kaasa.

Lazamon of Buckglen was the Lord High Chancellor of Mages before he was murdered. Now he’s pigeon-back and revealing some nasty plans.

The Hunt

Saucebox is the horse that Beka rides on this Hunt while Breeze is her packhorse. Moonhead, Chase, and Brushtail are the Halseander ferryman‘s hounds. Palisa Vintor of the Arenaver district is a victim. Ormer will be their guide across the swamp. Beldeal is the angry headwoman at War Gorge Marsh.

Corus is the capital city of Tortall. The Black God is their death god. A gixie is a very young girl while a mot is a woman. Peregrine ships are the most precious vessels of the Crown. Ferrets are the royal spies. The Gentle Mother religion is gaining a foothold. It believes all women should be shy and retiring, never take up arms or defend themselves, have no brain and no opinion.

Queensgrace Castle
Lady Sabine is related to nobles all over the kingdom, including Count Dewin and Countess Aeldra here at Queensgrace. Niccols is the steward. Master Elyot of Aspen Vale is a very powerful mage and a guest here along with Prince Baird and Graeme, the Baron of Aspen Vale. The countess’ ladies-in-waiting include Lady Lewyth who loves her Snowball, a Butterfly Puppy and Lady Wyttabyrd who is a snotty little bitch as is the Lady Baylisa of Disart. No-Skin is a slave that anyone can beat but can’t leave marks on. Linnet Beck is the young slave with a wealth of important information. Fay is, sort of, one of Beka’s dinner partners, and she has the sight. Iris bakes good rolls. Fess is the spinner Beka encounters, who lifts her up to see a worrisome sight. Parris Eckard is a silk merchant.

The chief ostler at the Crown inn insists the four of them get on their way the night the inn practically burns down. Canart was one of the inn servants who talk to Beka through the pigeons.

The Viper and Dolsa Silkweb are the mages escorting Prince Gareth.

Lord Thanen is Sabine’s cousin. Nomalla is another lady knight and Thanen’s daughter. She’s also a traitor along with her father. Daeggan is one of the slaves who escape.

The Cover and Title

The cover is consistent with the earlier two with its solid bands of color, — deep, deep green in this case (yes, I know it looks teal on the computer, weird…) — with the author’s name and the title in white. The middle band is a silver foil graphic with Beka in her Dog’s uniform, dangling a set of shackles, and her body facing out over a range of snowy mountains but with her face and Pounce’s turned back to look at us.

The title is Beka’s latest nickname: Mastiff.

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4 responses to “Book Review: Mastiff by Tamora Pierce

  1. The model’s pose on the cover looks kinda awkward… I hadn’t heard of this author until now, but it seems like she made an impression on you in a big way. Plus, a 5-star rating of a third installment is a super good sign. Thanks for the review!

    Carmel @ Rabid Reads

    • I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by Tamora Pierce that I haven’t loved. Mastiff is part of a subseries in Pierce’s overall Tortall series. They’re all middle grade reader or YA reader-oriented, but I’m a wee bit older than that *eye roll, grin* and I adore them. She’s a good writer.

  2. I loved this series, and this one was brilliant… up until that last, terrible betrayal, which went so much against the character I thought I knew. I can hardly bear to think of rereading the trilogy because of it. And yet… I know that it’s the sort of thing that happens IRL. But the who and the why and what the person does just — I can’t wrap my mind around it.

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