Mastiff: The Legend of Beka Cooper #3 Hardcover – Oct 25 2011
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Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2011:
"Pierce has long been lauded for her kickass heroines, and in Beka she has created her most compelling, complicated character...[T]his novel provides both crackerjack storytelling and an endearingly complex protagonist."
Booklist, December 1, 2011:
"This concluding title in the Beka Cooper series is the best yet, a tasty blend of detective work, romance, magic, and treachery."
About the Author
TAMORA PIERCE has completed four series of books set in the fantasy realm of Tortall. Pierce's fast-paced, suspenseful writing and strong, believable heroines have won her much praise: Emperor Mage was a 1996 ALA Best Book for Young Adults.
Top Customer Reviews
First of all, the book felt really rushed. For example, there was hardly an introduction, which took away from the reading experience. The author introduced and killed off a character who was supposed to have had an important role in Beka's life, but there wasn't enough detail for readers to empathize with her.
More importantly, there were major inconsistencies in the plot, which made me ask myself "what the heck?" many times. There were some details that I think the author may have neglected to research, which were small but still detracted from the experience. (E.g. vomiting food after more than 12 hours without eating?) The major "twist" at the end was completely unbelievable. From our previous knowledge of certain characters, it is unthinkable that they would act in such ways that would lead to the conclusion as the author wrote it. It makes the reader feel that the author was simply tying up loose ends: throw a twist in there, wrap it up, and call it day.
Overall, from how rushed and inconsistent everything was, this book felt more like a draft rather than the final product. The plot - and Beka Cooper - had so much potential, which was unfortunately left unrealized.
That being said, just as we follow a grown-up Beka in Mastiff, so too do we encounter a more grown-up Pierce in its writing and narrative development. This is not a simple "gender bending" book where girls can fight as well as boys (Alana series), a hightly imaginative animal-human saga (Immortals series), a growing-of-age-into-one's-special-gifts teen novel (Circle series) or a convoluted spy-court intrigue(Aliane). It has much less of an epic or adventure feel to it, though it does remain journey quest/police procedural narrated in "Dog slang" as is wont in the Beka tradition. The magical gimmicks and clever humor of Pierce's previous books are also somewhat effaced. Rather, this novel begins with a grieving heroine and ends with a hefty real-world problem -- the abolition of slavery. The plot hinges on an age-old life-changer - betrayal. As various negative Amazon.com reviews attest, many readers too felt betrayed by this plot twist, and resultingly berated the writer for faulty character development. Yet I find that Pierce captured the numbness and guilt of Beka's initial grief admirably well, just as she did the final shock of infidelity to one's moral standards. I also found the passages about torture and imprisonment, although brief, suprisingly articulate for a teen novel.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
With "Mastiff," I realized Pierce is no longer writing the kind of story I like to read.
Kirkus nailed it when they compared Pierce's approach to a police procedural, and it's this approach which either raises or damns Beka's story depending on the audience. If you enjoy Issue stories, wherein Bad Things are given an unflinching and immediate portrayal, and there are at least one or two Shocking Twists before the wrap, "Bloodhound" and "Mastiff" are for you. If you want a story that tackles internal issues as well the external -- such as identity and ideology, and the conflict between idealism and realism -- then you're better off reading "Terrier" and leaving it at that. I'm sure some people will vehemently insist "Mastiff" contains these issues as well. I disagree, or at least, I disagree that it tackles them with the same immediacy and deeply personal stakes introduced in "Terrier." That book was a young woman's struggle to find her place in a corrupt-yet-beloved community, where her attempts to find a solid moral ground to stand on were further complicated by complex friendships. The last two in the trilogy are a bit of Beka the Super-Dog: capable of toppling insidious political/economic/cultural corruption in a single book, along with Appropriate Sidekicks.
It's obvious my own preference colors my review. But I have to say my disappointment with "Mastiff" isn't limited to the constraints of its ambition. There were narrative jumps, especially when it came to character motivations, which I simply did not buy. I can't get specific without spoilers. But I'm not saying I refuse to believe the characters would act a certain way because they're Good (i.e. I love them) or Bad (i.e. I hate them). I'm saying Pierce failed to make it feel real to me, and it's a sad ending to a writer-reader relationship that once had me deeply emotionally invested in a cross-dressing, goddess-touched knight trainee and her magical cat companion. Or, more recently, in an underdog slum girl who communicated with whirling clouds of dust and ghost-ridden pigeons. If I could say "I buy it" to things like that, but not to motivations based in emotional logic and realistic relationships, something crucial has gone missing.
I can't give "Mastiff" less than three stars, because it's still a competently-written, solid book. And it addresses a worthwhile issue and unorthodox material for a fantasy romp. (Whether the awareness of said issue translates at all to our world, considering its specific fantasy context, is a bit more questionable.) But the end of this trilogy feels massively divorced from its beginning in terms of focus and relationships. If The Legend of Beka Cooper had started the way it finished, I would have been content to say "not for me" and let bygones be. But I think such a swerve is telling, and can't help but view "Mastiff" through my wish of what might have been.
Along with several other reviewers, I pre-ordered _Mastiff_, expecting a well-written and intelligently plotted detective story rooted in familiar Tortallan soil. Previous entries in the series had been both meticulous and genuine in their execution: _Bloodhound_ brought the threat of counterfeit and fiscal inflation vividly to life; _Terrier_ built characters and relationships that challenged Pierce's traditional conflation of order, authority, and good.
_Mastiff_ doesn't duplicate these achievements. To give Pierce credit, in _Mastiff_ she tries to explore the implications of slavery and the difficulty of uprooting entrenched privileges. But she doesn't carry it off: bad or inconsistent characterization turns an essentially gripping story into a didactic exercise.
Very early in the book, we see Beka confronted with a young mother who has lost her only child. She pleads with Beka to bring him back to her, but her pleas--her whole character--is one breathless desolate cliche. We know Pierce is a better writer than this: in _Emperor Mage_, Daine confronts the mage Varice and recognizes something of her own mother in the woman's protest that she never wanted to be powerful, only to make people happy. Varice and Daine's dialogue is fraught, illuminating, and earns them both our sympathy. But neither we nor Beka see anything to respect in Jessamine. She's pretty, desolate, and forgettable.
The more serious problems begin at the two-thirds turn of the story, as we start to collect evidence that someone in Beka's band has turned traitor. With only four in the party, there's scant detecting required to identify the turncoat. Pierce could have played this for tension, shown us Beka aware of the betrayal and gambling on a last minute about-face. Instead, Beka hardly seems concerned: the traitor will out themselves in time--but not before assassinations, arson, and magical nastiness have totally compromised her team's effectiveness.
Still, the biggest problem with Pierce's traitor is that their demeanor, mannerisms, and dialogue change noticeably when they defect. If anyone in the story had remarked on this, or if we'd seen the changes lamp-shaded as a guilty conscience, I might have been able to overlook the shift. Instead, these wobbles feel like the strains of authorial fiat. When we finally learn what motivated the traitor, we find that Pierce has altered the status quo of a relationship established in an earlier book, changed someone's deepest desires and fears--but she never shown _us_ that change. Beka could and should have caught that moment: the blindness and disasters that followed would then have been tragedy, instead of unintended farce.
There are other problems: though we've encountered plenty of likeable mages in her other books, in _Mastiff_ it seems there's only one. Then too, the epilogues feel a bit like a purple neon finger pointing at the Alanna quartet. [No one reading this series will have missed the connection, trust me.]
But in all this whinging, I have to stress that Pierce did some (_many_) things well. This is an intelligent book, though the characters don't always live up to the story. The detective magics are interesting and employed to good effect. As with all the series, there's real textural detail to the setting, and Beka herself has a fascinating view of Tortall.
In sum: _Mastiff_ is worth reading--but not too closely.
With my review, I won't mince words, I LOVE Tamora Pierce but I HATE this book. I bought it back in October on its release date; I had waited for so long because I loved Terrier and Bloodhound and I was psyched to read Mastiff. I am an avid reader and have read everything of Tamora Pierce's that I can get my hands on. Some of my books are about to split from having read them so many times. This book makes me angry, angry enough to write a review of it because I think people should read Terrier and Bloodhound and then imagine Beka and her friends' future for themselves.
From this point on, there are *MAJOR SPOILERS*.
Again, I am laying my opinions out there on everything so *MAJOR SPOILER ALERT! (Not just Mastiff but other Tamora Pierce novel spoilers)* and I'll put a tl:dr version below because I think this might be very long.
I was disappointed when I discovered that Beka's latest escapade would not take place in Corus like Terrier. I enjoyed the fact that Bloodhound was in Port Caynn because that gave the readers a chance to see how Beka works without Pounce and without her safety net. I was hoping that Mastiff would truly come full circle and have a large portion of the action in Corus so we could catch up with old friends like Ersken, Rosto, Kora, Aniki and so we could see how Goodwin is doing in her new job.
Much of the storyline felt like an updated, slightly changed, version of Kel's Lady Knight. They even stopped in some of the same locations like Queensgrace and the fact that she was chasing after a child/children felt a bit rehashed. With all the other Tortallan books we have enough dealings with the nobility and royalty. I enjoyed the fact that Beka's books were set in the "muck and ice" and dealt primarily with the commoners with the exception of Lord Gershom, Sir Tullus, Lady Teodorie and Lady Sabine and her friends. Bringing back a king and queen felt redundant. Prince Baird bore more than a slight resemblance to Prince Bronau of Trickster's Choice, being a lady's man, power hungry and willing to kidnap the heir.
Another problem, for me, was that the tone of the book didn't feel like Ms. Pierce's. I had read about her having surgery or something of that nature and I began to wonder if perhaps she hired a ghostwriter in order to make the deadline. Beka's voice didn't sound like Beka's voice and she was not the same kind girl we had met. Her tone towards the nobility was really snotty and Pounce's observations, while usually wickedly funny, also seemed nasty. Tunstall and Lady Sabine didn't sound like the people we had met in the previous novels either and I don't know how else to say it but their speech patterns were different. I found it strange that Beka was willing to call Lady Sabine "Sabine". She's always been so respectful, especially around the nobility and in a few weeks she gives that up? And Tunstall was incredibly rude to Farmer, which struck me as odd because I have never known him to be so disrespectful to anyone, especially a fellow Dog. (That also made me predispositioned to dislike Farmer because I trusted Tunstall's judgment.)
The heavy-handed method used to decry slavery was too much but Melting Stones also was quite heavy-handed in its portrayal of protecting the environment. These two books seem to be so issue driven that character development and the plot are sacrificed. I think that the Trickster series, which dealt with race relations, was a much better example of how to address an important issue without hammering it home. Another great instance of a particular issue being dealt with is how the Circle series handled Daja being a lesbian, by not making an issue of it at all.
But back to Mastiff, Ms. Pierce has always made a point of using made up swear words with minor exceptions like "bitch" which makes sense in this particular world. Beka and Goodwin are dogs and are females and female dogs are bitches so it's a fitting insult to use against them. However, in Mastiff, there are regular 4 letter swear words that took me out of the setting and brought me back to modern day and that felt off. The swearing multiplied in Mastiff and Beka just couldn't seem to stop herself, which seemed out of character. I understand how things are in the police (I was in the Army and it's quite the same situation) but there was barely any swearing in Terrier and Bloodhound by anyone. I also thought that Farmer stuffing things up his bum was cringe worthy and not necessary at all.
Beka's relationship with Farmer didn't make sense either. She is known to not warm up to people easily, to not be very trusting and all of a sudden she's acting like a love sick nymphomaniac. When she bedded Dale in Bloodhound, she started out by playing the part of the pretty, spoiled pet Dog. Beka put herself into this character in order to Hunt and because of that, being away from home, and her attraction to Dale, she allowed herself to be more free than she usually is and to do things she normally wouldn't do. In the context, it made a lot of sense.
In the beginning of Mastiff, Beka buries Holborn, a Dog that we had never met before who also seems to be an incredible jerk. Nothing in the description of his character would lead me to believe that Beka would have ever dated someone like that. Over and over we've heard about the horrible men that her mother had dated and how Beka wouldn't want to end up like that. Then, she meets Farmer a few days after she's buried Holborn and a couple of weeks after that she's ready to marry him?! To believe that would happen, I would have to deny everything I know about Beka. She would not neglect her duty for any man, especially on such an important case. I don't think she's the type of woman to propose either. The fact that she's going to marry Farmer and he's going to be the ancestor of George makes no sense considering how Rosto was set up for that spot, even naming the Dancing Dove after his mother. Plus, Farmer changing his last name just seems weird, random and like Ms. Pierce had planned on having Rosto be the father of Beka's baby but changed her mind at the last minute.
Now, for the traitor. This is yet another place where I would have to forget everything I know about a character in order to believe that he could go rogue. Tunstall might be feckless and child-like but he enjoys his freedom and he loved the relationship that he had with Lady Sabine. I can understand that seeing her in her world and being separated might have upset him but Tunstall would NEVER have betrayed his friends like that and he NEVER would have killed a little boy for such ridiculous reasons. Tunstall has shown that he respects all life, just like Beka. He was kind to the Ashmiller children, he gave Pounce the nickname "Hestaka" out of respect and he takes care of his own. Tunstall is also an intelligent guy; he would have known (because they discussed it) that the conspirators would never have given him the things they had promised. He would have been dead like the Lord High Chancellor of Mages. Furthermore, had he really wanted that position, Tunstall would have known that he could have received far better rewards from a grateful king and queen.
I think that plot twist was added for shock value (a lot of the things that happened in this book seem to have been added for that reason) and it blows my mind. There were no indications that Tunstall would turn traitor in any of the books. If there had been indications for Beka and her group to see, she would have seen them. She has been called a "suspicious mot" by her own cousin, and she's always wary. Trying to say that Tunstall could have fooled both Beka and Lady Sabine is insane and they also had a detached observer in Farmer. None of them saw any indication that Tunstall had become a traitor, none. There was no indication in any of the previous novels that Tunstall had this side to his personality.
A more than fleeting thought that crossed my mind is that, somehow, Stephenie Meyer got her hands on this novel and became the ghostwriter. That's why simple things like the word "doxie" were changed to "doxy" and why the plot has so much filler of them running around the country. It was quite convoluted and disorganized, much like the Twilight series. (I do realize that I'm being harsh but, like I wrote before, I have had this book for almost 9 months and I've tried to give it a chance multiple times but I just HATE it.)
So, to try and make things right (at least in my own mind), I have started thinking up my own plot for Elkhound (the original title of Mastiff). Since Barzun is still its own country and hasn't been acquired by Tortall, I thought it would be incredibly fascinating to involve the beginning of the war where Tortall defeats the people of Barzun. Kora and other mages (like the Provost's mages) could be taken hostage or have mysteriously disappeared and the Rogue has to work with the Provost's Guard in order to figure out what's going on. They could even pull in Nestor and Okha for help with disguises and such.
During this war, they save Kora and the other mages. There is some incident that causes Beka and Rosto to share one passionate night (in which she is impregnated) and then, sadly, he dies, leaving her to raise her child alone. She never did figure out if he had a last name so her son receives her last name of Cooper, thus setting up the lineage for George. There could also be some sort of royal connection that allows Tunstall to receive a degree of nobility (maybe even a house that we see in the Alanna series) and marry Lady Sabine.
We also see that Kora and Ersken have their own house (they might have been planning a wedding before she was kidnapped and then the could hold it after she's returned). This allows us to catch up with Aniki, Phelan, Goodwin, Beka's siblings, the rest of House Haryse, the Jane Street Kennel, Nestor, Okha, etc. Achoo can have another litter or two of puppies that continue to serve the Provost's Guard, even in George's time, unbeknownst to him. Pounce wouldn't have gotten banished and, that way, we could fit in a couple more Pounce related stories before the start of the Alanna series.
TL;DR: This book broke my heart and I don't believe that Tamora Pierce was the one that wrote the bulk of it. You're better off if you write your own fan-fic to give these characters a better-deserved conclusion.
Having patiently waited for the third book, I bought it on my kindle the morning it came out. I had read the sneak peak and was eager to see Beka engaging with royalty. (A side note, it has always interested me to see the non-royal side of Tortall, which is all we get with Alanna, Daine, and Kel. And also kind of wtih Aly : . However, I found myself very disappointed.
First, I thought the huge fuss of the dead fiance was out of place. I don't know Holborne. I know Rosto, and I like Rosto. I liked Dale, Kora, et al. I was disappointed that Pierce sort of dropped those characters (more so than in Bloodhound) and instead presented a new cast. I understand that the nature of Beka's job is to work in new environments, but, as a reader, it is so frustrating to get attached to characters only to see them abandoned.
I understand the use of Holborne as a figure who forced Beka to grow in many ways, preparing her for her ten-second love affair with Farmer (which seemed entirely un-Beka.), but I think it would have been more effective if Pierce had planned for this and used Dale, or introduced Holborne previously so that we had some active scenes with him, because all we as readers know of him is his past-tense character flaws.
In terms of the plot, I found it lackluster in several places, dwelling on in ways that were probably meant to be tense and frustrating (the marsh, the final dungeon, Port Caynn) but for me it came off as "this book needs to be longer. Chapter four, in which Beka and Tunstall spend a few days in Port Caynn waiting for their orders." Yuck.
I was also entirely shocked and annoyed by the final "twist". I didn't think that Pierce's characterization in any way prepared us for that. The inconsistency--and the motivation for the traitor's decision--felt ingenuine and thrown together. I was waiting for Pounce to comment about it, since he is the 3rd person voice of reason (I love Pounce! I want a Pounce trilogy!) and he never commented! No, "sorry Beka, but you know how it goes. I can't betray traitors" or anything! I was happy about Pounce's handling of Achoo, and glad to see a reason for his absence until Alanna.
I felt that this book was repurposed to give a happily-ever-after, but also explain some of the history of Tortall. I just wish that it had been staged better, because in many places there was no foreground for an event, it just jumped out and left me shrugging and mumbling "well, I guess that's happened then..."
A second read in a couple of months may change my mind, but my initial reaction is a frown.
I really hope that Pierce writes the Numair and Maura books. And Pounce. Always Pounce.
The plot wasn't half bad. There was an epic Hunt to solve, with equally epic characters. In fact, I'd say the "police procedural" approach that the Beka Cooper books utilize is actually very enjoyable. Unfortunately, that style of writing ended up hampering Tamora Pierce in the long run.
Here's where our beloved Tamora Pierce went wrong: she attempted to draw out some psychological flaws in multiple characters throughout Mastiff. Normally, the added emotional tension would be a delightful flavor to add to the plot. But since these particular, situational flaws had not been present for Terrier or Bloodhound, the psychological drama flopped. Hard.
Beka, as we all know, is a reserved person who stuffs her emotions. You'd expect that a catastrophic event would add extreme vulnerability. However, she barely flinches when faced with the death of her fiance. Tamora Pierce attempted to apply that reaction to Beka's nature, but when the issue is repeatedly sprinkled throughout the book with little variation in Beka's behavior, the reader suffers from boredom. There was no grief cycle whatsoever - granted, it's made immediately apparent that Beka's fiance was borderline abusive, but still. She had, at one point loved him enough to marry him...and the memory of that former love should have carried through somehow.
As you have heard, there is a major plot twist in store - and it's actually quite a shocker! The most shocking part, however, is that Tamora Pierce unraveled a character's personality to provide the surprise twist. Yes, you will be surprised. But I think you'll agree that the surprise feels wrong. False. A sham. It was at this point that I suffered great disappointment in Tamora Pierce's abilities. She is a better writer than that; I don't think changing a character's nature so abruptly aided the story one bit.
And for my final qualm: the swearing. Up until now, Tamora Pierce had been sticking to curses that were fitting for her world (and kind of disturbingly imaginative ^_^). In this book, she pushes into the Four Letter Word realm. I found it disgustingly inappropriate. Inappropriate for the setting and for reading. While the quaint, colloquial curses of Tortall can be easily passed over with a wry laugh, I find nothing funny or enojyable about her usage of today's common cusses. It felt as though she had thrown out creativity and was writing the rotten stuff simply to make her plot more shocking. Bad for the sake of bad.
So, all in all, it's a flop. I expected better. And I hope she'll revert back to her original style when she next tackles the Numair books.
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