Mastiff by Tamora Pierce – Advance Review

Book Description (from Tamora Pierce):

In Mastiff, Beka and her partner Tunstall are put on the biggest case of their lives. Traveling along with Pounce, Achoo, a mage named Farmer, and Lady Sabine (there to deal with nobles), they are on the trail of kidnapping evil-doers who murder anyone that gets in their way—or possesses even the slightest tidbit of information about them or their organization. Murder and treason are afoot at the highest echelons of the realm. Beka will be dealing with greedy nobles, a rising religious cult, and a hunt throughout the kingdom that will either make her career, or end her life.


Bloodhound, the previous Beka Cooper book, came out April 14, 2009. Being the ridiculous Tamora Pierce fan that I am, after two years of waiting I pretty much lost my mind with glee when I laid hands on this book, let alone cracked it open – so yes, I came to Mastiff with high expectations, to say the least. What I found was a book that was both not what I expected and yet still very much the ending the Beka Cooper trilogy deserves – and having read it more than once, I can tell you the ending gets me every time.

The Beka Cooper books have been a first in Pierce’s Tortall series in more ways than one – not only is it the first time a Pierce leading lady is not a noble or a mage (well, Beka has a Gift, but isn’t a magician, per se), it’s also the first time a Pierce story has taken place entirely outside the realm of privilege. Beka’s world is that of the lower city – the bottom rung of Tortall’s socio-economic ladder – and Pierce doesn’t hold back when it comes to the hard-scrabble existence of the have-nots, from parents who sell their own children into slavery to make ends meet, to the Dogs (policemen and women) who cross the line and sometimes end up on the other side. I love, love, love the moral shades of gray in these books, and how Beka, having spent her childhood on the edge of crushing poverty, chose to dedicate her life to holding that line for others. Beka is shy, determined, tough, gentle, and completely unique. I love Beka and I love watching her work.

And what work there is for her in this book, as Beka once again finds herself far out of her league and miles from home. While the first two books took place in urban settings, this time around Beka ranges far and wide across Tortall. There is a wonderful sense of suspense that comes from those lone roads and deep woods, as they make us feel how very much alone Beka and her team are on this Hunt, and just how very small they are compared to the forces arrayed against them. The tension of waiting for the axe to fall was fantastic – and when that axe does fall, wow, does it ever.

Another fascinating layer to this story is how it explores the realities of police work in a world where noble privilege is still absolute. How do you pursue a suspect onto lands where the Lord’s word is law, where he can dictate where you go and who you talk to? When a noble has money, power, and an army of people loyal to him at his beck and call, what do you do if the Lord himself is implicated in wrongdoings? Mastiff continues this trilogy’s excellent portrayal of class, and imparts a wonderful sense of David vs. Goliath as our heroes face down the world of privilege armed only with grit, determination, and a just cause.

So is this a perfect book? Not entirely – the narrative, while the stakes are higher than ever, doesn’t quite have the impetus of Terrier (still my favorite book of the three), and there are some lulls between clues and happenings (and no lack of scenes of setting up camp). It also took me a bit to warm up to the huge role Farmer is given to play in Beka’s life, but all in all Mastiff is still a cracking good read – and like Bloodhound, this book only gets better when you read it again.

I just can’t say it enough – I love this series, top to bottom. Beka Cooper is one of my all time favorite Tamora Pierce characters (and believe me, that is saying a LOT): she’s real, complex, and utterly compelling, and I hate to see her series end. As for this book, Mastiff kept me glued, front to back cover, and knotted me up so much (in the best possible sense) that I had to re-read Pierce’s Keladry series just to regain my equilibrium. In the end, Mastiff is just one more reason why we love Tamora Pierce.

Oh, Beka, I miss you already.

Byrt Grade: A

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Kirkus Reviews (starred review) says:

Pierce has long been lauded for her kickass heroines, and in Beka she has created her most compelling, complicated character…An involving police procedural wrapped in fantasy clothing, this novel provides both crackerjack storytelling and an endearingly complex protagonist.