Mastiff by Tamora Pierce (Beka Cooper #3)

Three years have passed since Beka Cooper almost died in the sewers of Port Caynn, and she is now a respected member of the Provost's Guard. But her life takes an unexpected turn when her fiancé is killed on a slave raid. Beka is faced with a mixture of emotions as, unbeknownst to many, she was about to call the engagement off.

It is as Beka is facing these feelings that Lord Gershom appears at her door. Within hours, Beka; her partner, Tunstall; her scent hound, Achoo; and an unusual but powerful mage are working on an extremely secretive case that threatens the future of the Tortallan royal family, and therefore the entire Tortallan government. As Beka delves deeper into the motivations of the criminals she now Hunts, she learns of deep-seated political dissatisfaction, betrayal, and corruption. These are people with power, money, and influence. They are able to hire the most skilled of mages, well versed in the darkest forms of magic. And they are nearly impossible to identify.

This case - a Hunt that will take her to places she's never been - will challenge Beka's tracking skills beyond the city walls, as well as her ability to judge exactly whom she can trust with her life and country's future.

CONTRIBUTOR(S): Susan Denaker (Narrator)
PUBLISHER: Random house
YEAR: 2011
LENGTH: 586 pages (20 hours 26 minutes)
AGE: Young Adult
GENRE: Fantasy

Queer Rep Summary: Gay/Achillean Minor Character(s), Genderqueer/Nonbinary Minor Character(s), Trans Minor Character(s).

MASTIFF follows Baka, Tunstall, Farmer Cape, and Lady Sabine in their hunt for a kidnapped prince. They quickly discover that his kidnappers used the slave trade to fund and disguise their movements and make the plan possible, in addition to trafficking the prince himself just as any other child slave in Tortall. 

It shows Beka’s partnership with Tunstall, something set up at the end of Terrier. There’s a new storyline related to the kidnapped child they’re tracking. This answers the reason why Tortall has slavery in Beka’s time but not by the time Alanna is born in the Song of the Lioness quartet. Several things are introduced and resolved, including but not limited to the kidnapping and the conspiracy at the center of it.

Most of the book covers the long and difficult (but mostly long) journey on the trail of the prince and the minutiae of the hunt. Along the way Beka gets to know Farmer, the mage in their group. Tunstall’s Lady Sabine is there to be a sword and to ease their way among the nobles in their path. Beka and Tunstall are their with Beka’s scent hoond, Achoo, making the hunt possible. I like most of the individual scenes, but together they just take a very long time on the trail of the prince. I also find the plot about Beka’s recently deceased fiancé to be pointless and frustrating. Because the story so immediately leaves Corus, most of the people who knew about the relationship are left behind right away, and any reference to how much better Farmer is to be around than the fiancé just feels odd because we didn’t see the toxic and slowly breaking relationship that just ended. It’s fine for Beka to have had a life in the three years between books, but this weird halfway where the fiancé isn’t around in TERRIER or BLOODHOUND and dead at the start of Mastiff makes it feel unmoored and pointless. I do love Farmer, he’s a great addition to the series and I just wish he’d appeared earlier.

This book might mostly make sense if someone started here and hadn’t read any of the other books, but it would definitely dampen the impact of several developments. Beka’s still the narrator (except for the epilogue), as this is her journal. MASTIFF has a pretty devastating betrayal which makes it difficult to discuss the story without spoilers. I hated this event when I first read the book, but upon re-reading the trilogy I can see the elements leading to it much further off and it makes more sense to me now. It still feels like the casual destruction of a good character, but in an actually understandable manner. This concludes Beka’s writings of her story, the journal format means she can say specifically that she doesn’t intend to keep a journal anymore after these events. 

Graphic/Explicit CW for grief, child abuse, kidnapping, confinement, blood, gore, excrement, violence, slavery, murder, animal death, child death, death.

Moderate CW for cursing, toxic relationship, xenophobia, alcohol, fire/fire injury, vomit, injury detail, medical content, medical trauma, torture, suicide.

Minor CW infidelity, sexual harassment, sexual assault.

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A young woman in black armor stands in fog in front of a mountain, a dog and cat are at her feet


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