Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Mastiff by Tamora Pierce

So, before I go into this one, I need to say how much I love Tamora Pierce. I don’t think I’ve reviewed any of her stuff here yet. I used to read her books during class. My friend, Lenka and I skipped high school one day to go to her book signing at Barnes and Noble (the one I now work in –I’m a part-time librarian and a part-time bookseller!)
Actually, the sad thing was that when Lenka and I got to that Barnes and Noble, we were told Tamora was moving her signing to a middle school in the area. The kind booksellers saw our sad expressions and took pity on us, giving us directions to the middle school. We got to the school, were directed to the auditorium, and then got a whole hour with Tamora Pierce to ourselves before she took the stage for the school.  I got every book I owned of hers (at the time) signed, which is not something generally allowed at most book signings, considering how many books that is. I just remember feeling so lucky to have that time with her. I still have the pictures we took that day!
Lenka and I then went to Barnes and Noble after the assembly, and I actually ended up seeing Tamora again in the bathroom there! She probably thought I was following her…Since then, I have met her two more times. Once, at a signing for one of the Trickster books, and once at New York Comic Con. Mastiff is one of the few books I own of hers that is not signed.
Why do I love Tamora so much? When I first started reading her, the YA sections of bookstores and libraries were about a 10th the size of what they are now, and the majority of books in these sections were about guys. Her books were about girl heroes who became knights and talked to animals, and knew how to use magic. Why wouldn’t I love her? Her books not only helped me get through the boring high school classes, but they opened up my love for fantasy. That is why she is one of my favorite authors of all time. That and she made me feel really special that day Lenka and I went to see her.
That said Mastiff was not my favorite book of hers. I know what Tamora is capable of, and Mastiff just did not impress me that much. However, Tamora’s “not her best work” is about as good as someone else’s ultimate work.
The book (which is the third and last in the Beka Cooper trilogy) seems to take place years after the last one. And I was a little confused in the beginning because there was a funeral for her fiancé, a man who wasn’t in any of the other books. Eventually I figured that a lot of time must have passed since the last book. And it took me a while to get into this one. It actually took about two weeks to read, which is a very long time for me. I just wasn’t getting into the kidnapped child mystery until the heavy action started.
After the funeral, Beka and her partner, Tunstall, are quickly hired for a hunt to track down Tortall’s prince Gareth, who was taken after a deadly attack. Gareth’s father was creating new laws regarding mages, and other royals took the opportunity to attack, while having certain, powerful mages on their side. Beka, Tunstall, and Lady Sabine (the lady knight/lover of Tunstall), along with Pounce (the otherworldly cat) and Achoo (the best scent hound ever) go off on the hunt of a lifetime to track down the 4-year old prince, who’s been taken into slavery. Eventually the group is joined by Farmer, a mage who pretends to be a lot simpler than he is. I really kept imagining him to be a bit like Richard Castle (from the show, Castle). He was just so easy going, and full of interesting, surprising tricks. I fell in love with him immediately.
I was not really feeling the story until Beka’s group made it close to the prince (a little past halfway). At that point there was a lot of interesting politics, double-crossing, torture, rescues, death, falling in love, otherworldly involvement, mage battles, illusions, fight scenes, and survival. And what Tamora Pierce has in common with a lot of dystopia writers is the ability to keep her characters (and their sense or lacking sense of morality) the same throughout the whole thing, even when the story gets complicated and the whole world seems to be filled with rude, abusive, nobles who torture for information. I loved Beka! While she has become stronger and more intelligent over the years, with each hunt, she remains the steadfast, loyal, and trusting good soul she always was.
The book ends with a bit of a twist and plenty of links to the books Tamora has already written that take place 100 years in the future of this one. The ending is perfect for what all three books represent. And I love how it connects to Alanna and George and Faithful. Sometimes I got frustrated with all the minute details about things like the meals they ate or the amount of times Achoo had to go for a walk, or the characters making camp. But, the details did fit with Beka’s character and her need to get everything written down.
I wish the action started earlier. And I think a lot of the beginning parts of the hunt (like the boat rides, the broken bridges, and even all the stops along the way for dead bodies) could have been slimmed down some. And I wish some of the other characters from before were in it. Frankly, Tamora has some amazing characters in this series, and it was just kind of sad not to see them all. But, it was worth it to get to the good action scenes. This was not my favorite book of hers by a long shot, but it did conclude the trilogy rather nicely. And I am so glad that Tamora keeps writing books! She is a fantastic writer, and an amazing person. I look forward to anything she has to write or say. I give this one an 8/10.

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