I read my way through virtually all of the Tamora Pierce books when I was younger (I even went so far as to get my copy of Trickster’s Choice signed), so I’m not sure how I missed the publication of this new Tortall series. The third volume is already out, so I’ve got some serious catching up to do.
The Plot: Beka Cooper’s dream has always been to join the troop of tough city guards known as the Dogs. When she is assigned as a trainee–a “puppy”– to a pair of Dogs patrolling the slums of her childhood, Beka finds herself embroiled in a double criminal mystery. In one part of the slum an illegal gem miner is killing his workers to keep the mine a secret. Meanwhile, someone has been kidnapping children and murdering them if ransoms aren’t met. Beka has a few tricks up her sleeve herself, including pigeons that speak to her in the voices of the dead, an extremely clever cat, and new friends who may or may not be assassins.
The Author: Tamora Pierce published the first Alanna novel in 1983. She has written at least 5 novel series based around different characters within the Alanna fantasy world, which centers around the kingdom of Tortall. She has also authored a series in the separate (but similar) Circle universe and co-authored a Marvel comic series called White Tiger. She is known for writing strong female leads.
Why It’s Awesome: Beka Cooper is the heroine you want to be. She’s smart, tough, strong and loyal, with just enough flaws to keep her sympathetically human. She worships the ground the Dogs walk on, and you ache for her every time she stumbles in front of them. As a protagonist, you really want her to succeed (though I suppose it helps that the antagonist is a child murderer. Still). The plot moves along at a nice clip, and its twists and turns are intriguing without being too hard to follow.
Pierce is a veteran fantasy writer, and she grounds her story in real life and real people, not letting herself get lost in the expository details of her world. The Beka books are set two hundred years before the Alanna stories, so you don’t have to know anything about the previous series to appreciate them–though there’s a brief tie-in with George Cooper of the Alanna books. Pierce’s writing style is immediate and vivid, leaving you with no trouble picturing the action.
Pierce is also excellent — in all her books — at writing friend relationships, which it strikes me that most authors don’t pay a lot of attention to. My favorite scenes were those involving Beka and the circle of friends, men and women both, who live at her boarding house. All of them are relatively poor, but they pool their food and enjoy each other’s company without drama or the complications of romance. It read as very genuine to me, and reading it felt like being made a member of the group.
Why It’s Not Awesome: I have to say, it’s hard to pinpoint any flaws with this book. It is told in journal form and in dialect, and I suppose you could make an argument for that dialect becoming gimmicky or annoying. (Personally, I enjoyed it.) You could also argue that the book doesn’t display the originality of something like A Game of Thrones, but it’s a good story well told. The only thing I can say is that while I enjoyed it immensely, it didn’t have that effect of making me want to run out into the street and extoll its virtues to strangers that I associate with a Must Read.
The Final Judgment: Well-written and enjoyable. Fantasy fans will love it.