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.