Bloodhound: Beka Cooper Volume 2

ImageI liked Terrier well enough to immediately jump on its sequel.  As far as I can tell the only drawback to this volume is walking around with a book that says BLOODHOUND on it in huge letters.  Makes it sound kind of potboiler-y.

The Plot: Beka has graduated from trainee “puppy” to full-fledged Dog, a member of the Corus city watch, but can’t seem to find a partner who suits her. She and her former trainer, Goodwin, along with a scent hound named Achoo, are sent to follow a trail of forged money to a neighboring city. What they discover is a crime ring that reaches the very highest levels of both the city’s government and its underworld rulers.

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: Again, Beka is a great POV character. She’s tough and confident in the face of wrongdoing, but not so confident that she doesn’t have doubts or make mistakes. Her relationship with Goodwin believably toes the line between mentor/student and friend.

The dog Achoo has a major role in this novel (she had a minor one in the previous book), and Pierce’s writing often reminds me of Robin McKinley’s: you can tell from the way they write about animals that they draw from long personal experience.  Despite being mute (and ridiculously named), Achoo has a distinct personality of her own, and makes her own choices about right and wrong — sometimes to the frustration of the humans around her.

In addition to being a good animal writer, Pierce is always enjoyably blase about the role of sex as a part of normal life.  These are YA books, not romance novels, so the writing is fairly chaste, but what I have always liked about her stories is that the characters seem to take the romances of others so much in stride.  In this novel I particularly enjoyed the character of Okhuda, who lives with his partner, a Dog named Nestor, by day and becomes the beautiful singer Amber by night. Beka seems interested in Okhuda’s gender bending (she goes so far as to ask him for make-up advice), but is much more concerned about his possible use as an underworld double agent.

Because she doesn’t have to spend as much time setting up the fantasy world, Pierce is able to lavish more attention on the plot, which is basically a detective novel with fantasy trappings–and a good detective novel. This volume surpasses the first as a great adventure story, including visits to gambling dens, midnight robberies, corrupt police chiefs, seductive young gamblers, and a memorable disguise as a priest. It all ends with a Third Man-style chase through the sewers worthy of the best crime novels.

Why It’s Not Awesome: While the adventure quotient was higher, overall this volume didn’t quite live up to its predecessor. The first thing that threw me was the character of Pounce the cat, who we know from the first book is able to talk to Beka and perform certain mysterious magic of his own.  At the end of book one a friend of Beka’s suggests that he might be the embodiment of a cat constellation currently missing from the sky. That sounded intriguing.  The second volume took the truth of this statement for granted, without further explanation, even when Pounce disappears almost without warning on “star business.” The Pounce plotline is only incidental to the main arc of the story, but I wanted to know more about that whole star thing. Instead the general attitude was “ho hum, another constellation come to earth.”

I also had a bit of trouble with the time scale in this volume. All of the action takes place in less than a month, and it is a long, full book.  Factoring in the journal format, which means the main character was taking time each night to sit down and write out the day’s events, and I would have to guess that poor Beka just gave up sleeping that month.

On a related note, the romance seemed uncharacteristically quick for Beka. It was believable, and getting to see that Beka has a romantic, girly side just makes her a more well-rounded character. But since she spent all of book one fending off a potential suitor, I expected her to take longer to be won over.

A Note on the Book Cover: I have no idea what the heck that thing she’s staring at is. Maybe a sock? Socks were not an integral plot point.

The Final Judgment: More flaws than the first volume, but still a great read.

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