June 13, 2012

Review: Terrier by Tamora Pierce

Terrier by Tamora Pierce
Published: 2006, Random House
Series: Beka Cooper, #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Source: Library book

I well knew the rules to follow with our training Dogs: Speak when you're spoken to. Keep out of the way. Obey all orders. Get killed on your own time.

Tamora Pierce is one of my favorite YA fantasy writers of all time. We have a long history I remember buying the second book in The Immortals quartet, Wolf Speaker, back at a middle school book fair. I was introduced to Pierce's Tortall through Daine's quartet, and then went on to read The Song of the Lioness quartet, the Protector of the Small quartet, and Trickster's Choice and Trickster's Queen. I have read each of Pierce's series multiple times. Through her Tortall books, Pierce has established such an intricate and intriguing world and many strong female heroines. So I don't know what happened to me with the Beka Cooper trilogy. I think I waited so long to pick these up because they were published as I moved and entered college. During college I did not read much outside of class, and what I did read tended to be more adult fiction. But I love YA fiction, too, so I've been working to catch up on some fantastic series I've missed, including the Beka Cooper trilogy.

Terrier introduces a new Tortallan heroine: Beka Cooper. Beka lives in Tortall's Lower City and writes about her life as a Dog in the Provost's Guard, rounding up criminals and protecting the inhabitants. Beka has a strong sense of duty and is protective of the city she calls home, so when she begins her year of training to become a Dog (trainees are referred to as Puppies), Beka chooses to work the most dangerous part of the Lower City, the place she once called home. As with other Pierce heroines, there's far more to Beka than meets the eye. She can hear the dead spirits that ride alongside pigeon carriers. She can communicate with swirling bits of wind, gathering up what information they have to offer. She also has a black-furred, purple-eyed cat who is more than he appears(!). Paired with the Lower City's best team of Dogs, Beka is ready to capture every criminal who threatens the peace of her beloved city.

The Beka Cooper trilogy takes readers back to Tortall, but this time hundreds of years earlier than the age of Alanna, Daine, Kel, and Aly. I'm not going to lie – when I started reading Terrier I was a little nostalgic for fifth-century H.E. Tortall. I loved how Pierce's other Tortall series built upon one another, and how the main characters from previous books made appearances in the newer series. I also really liked the focus on the nobility and knights in the other Tortall books, but it was a rather limited view of the world of Tortall. Once I got over the disappointment that Beka's Tortall is two hundred years earlier and lower class, I realized the many perks and added information that Terrier brings to the Tortall world, things I wasn't even aware I wanted to know, like the history of the Court of the Rogue and another appearance of a certain purple-eyed cat.

All of Pierce's novels deal with acceptance and maturation, with her heroines starting out in a new place and needing to prove their worth, and this one is no different. Beka has heard all the stories about the fame (and infamy) of Goodwin and Tunstall, the two Dogs assigned as her mentors. After a humiliating first day, Beka strives harder than ever to prove herself. Her determination and strong sense of justice allow Beka to find unconventional ways to solve crimes and help the people. While this is a coming-of-age story as much as any of Pierce's other novels are, Terrier is also a crime/mystery story. I don't think I've ever willingly chosen to read a story like this, but I did enjoy reading about Beka trying to find ways to solve these mysteries. I did figure out the identity of the main killer quite a while before the big reveal, but I'm not sure if this has to do with me being a few years older than the intended audience or if the clues are too obvious.

Beka is a great, believable character. I didn't love her, per se – but I am incredibly biased in my opinion here since she has fierce Tortallan heroine competition – but I really respected her character. I feel like I really understood her motivations and I loved her strengths as well as her weaknesses. She's super conscientious about her role and duties as a Puppy and must balance what's expected of her and what extra assets she can bring to her Dogs and to the Provost's Guard in general.  She also is painfully shy and uncomfortable with human interactions. It was so nice to see how her training as a Puppy assisted in her evolution into a stronger, more confident person. She takes her duty so seriously and she's definitely the kind of person I'd want protecting me. I loved her nickname Terrier and found it to be super fitting.

This book represents a break from Pierce's traditional mode of storytelling. All of her other Tortall books are told in third person, and this is told through Beka's diary entries. Diary entries have the potential to be really annoying; I tend to ignore dates and all other heading information when reading epistolary novels (which I know isn't good, but I just want to read the story without any interruptions). But Beka's diary entries are not bad at all they're long and broken up just like chapters. After the first few chapters, the story is fast-paced, and it only takes place over the course of a month and a half. The epistolary format allows the text to be riddled with the idioms and different speech patterns of people from the Lower City, but fortunately Pierce always includes appendices full of glossaries and other reference materials. It was nice to get Beka's internal thoughts on events, especially since she doesn't express them to others. In this case, I think the writing style worked and made sense.

I really enjoyed getting back into the Tortall world, even with quite a few differences between this and the other Tortall books. I have Bloodhound ready to go and can't wait to see what happens to Beka next!
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Amanda loves few things better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. She frequently stays up far too late, telling herself she just needs to finish one more page. When she's not wrapped up in the stories of others, Amanda works as a children's librarian in a public library.

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