Mastiff (Beka Cooper #3)

Title: Mastiff

Author: Tamora Pierce

In the middle of the night Beka is summoned to a Hunt of dire importance: an attack on the Royal family has occurred, and the young prince is missing, possibly dead. So Beka and Achoo, along with her partner Tunstall, his lady Sabine, and the mage Farmer are on the Hunt. But this Hunt is bigger than anything they have worked on before. This Hunt very quickly exposes corruption at the highest levels of the kingdom. . .

This is a pretty massive book, but the events flow so well that it feels like a quick read. This is a Hunt that relies primarily on Beka as a scent-hound handler, where she and Achoo are in the lead and the rest of the team helps to back her up. And as events keep getting bigger and nastier, everyone else has opportunity to chip in with their specialties. I liked how vital every person was to the mission. This is Beka’s story, but the Hunt belongs to all of them.

I particularly liked Farmer. He’s a bit of an enigma and a riot, a atypical mage stronger than he likes to let on, who enjoys driving arrogant people (usually other mages) insane. He’s well aware of the perceptions people have of Dog mages being the crappiest of the lot, and he uses that combined with his country background to present a facade of innocent bumpkin. But despite being a powerful mage, he’s got a lot of limitations that show up early and often. His friendship with Beka builds naturally from the camaraderie of shared hardship to a mutual respect to something more. It’s also interesting how Farmer is contrasted with Beka’s now-deceased fiancee, Holborn, mostly in terms of personality and how he relates to her.

There was only one thing that actually bothered me about the plot, and that was a certain twist at the end. I’m going to try to stay vague to avoid spoilers. I just did not buy what happened with Tunstall. I know this was set up as additional comparison to Holborn, a literary trick of ending where the book began, in a sense, but I didn’t buy that it sprang from his character. Maybe if it had been one thing, alone, but everything together? That was a lot to swallow. I would have preferred a different explanation for certain events even if it still culminated in Tunstall making the same decision.

And on a minor note, I really wanted George’s bits of epilogue to be in third person. I know Beka’s journey has been first person—that’s part of why it’s so jarring to switch to a different narrator. All of George’s scenes in other books have been third person, and he came off differently to me in this small first-person segment than he did in other books.

Overall, though, this is probably the strongest book of the trilogy. The Hunt is clever at moving through multiple locales, difficulties, and social strata. There’s a great deal of magic, which was something I missed about the earlier books. And the high stakes is underlined again and again by the rather large body count by the end of the book, a constant reminder that there are consequences to meddling with the affairs of royalty. I rate this book Recommended.

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