Terrier: A Legend of Tortall, by Tamora Pierce
How, you ask yourself, did she have time to read such a hefty book in the past couple weeks, what with Family Literacy Day and OLA to prepare for? Ah, you answer, that is why she was up half the night writing booktalks yesterday....
Beka Cooper lives in Tortall, Tamora Pierce's masterfully created world, 200 years prior to the beginning of the Song of the Lioness Quartet. For Tamora Pierce fans, this is great news. Not only do we get more Tortall books, but we get a history of the world we've come to know through the 14 previous Tortall adventures. Not only this, but Beka is a great-ancestress of one of my favourite if under-developed characters - George Cooper! At last, a look at George's world. The other great thing about this book is that Tamora Pierce's publishers have caved in to the Harry Potter pressure and have allowed her to publish a full story in one large volume (although I do believe this may be a planned trilogy). So, we get a much fuller story than we were ever able to get in the Alanna books. In this way, this book has more in common with the weightier Trickster books.
Ok, enough Tamora Pierce gushing. On to the book. Terrier is set in the world of Corus's most run down neighbourhood. Rather than stories of knights and kingdom politics that we have come to expect, we have tales of the impoverished, the disenfranchised, and the court of the Rogue. Beka Cooper, our heroine, is a sixteen year old trainy in the Provost's Dogs - basically the city police. But, this is a time when there is very little in the way of law or order. The Dogs gain reputations based on their ability to brawl and chase down thieves, murderers, etc. But Beka has something more of integrity about her, and a passion for finding out and capturing those who do wrong. In her very dogedness and in her ability to sniff out the mysteries we see something of her descendant, the spy master.
In this story, Beka is on the case of two separate and horrific crimes and criminals, that none of the other Dogs seem to have given a second glance. In the one case, someone has been kidnapping children from some of the poor and demanding ransoms of the parents' only possessions in return for the children's safe return. In the other, someone has been hiring 8 or 9 men at a time to dig for something mysterious, and then killing them. Beka knows of these crimes because she has a form of magic that allows her to hear the voices of the dead. She passionately searches out the criminals throughout the story. And, in so doing, earns the respect of both her fellow Dogs and members of the Court of the Rogue.
Meanwhile, in her personal life, she finds herself living in the same boarding house as some very ambitious members of the Court of the Rogue, one of whom has a think upper lip and wide nose that sound suspiciously similar to features sported by a certain descendant of Beka - I suspect further intrigue here.
I think I'm too much of a fan to give a great analysis. My initial reaction is that I loved it, but that it is never going to be as much of a favourite for me as the Trickster stories have become. I think I like them best. This is more on a par with the later Circle of Magic - Circle Opens books. (For those who never got beyond the original quartet, the last 5 books are really very engaging).
So, there you have it, a thoroughly unbiased and open-minded critical review. Maybe I'll come back to this in a few weeks after I've read some other things and forgotten the Tortall rush.