A fitting end, even if I’m not happy about it. At all. Except for I’m happy with most of it except for that one part that was AWFUL AND HORRIBLE AND I...moreA fitting end, even if I’m not happy about it. At all. Except for I’m happy with most of it except for that one part that was AWFUL AND HORRIBLE AND I HATE IT. And the rest of it was great, but I’m bitter.
In case you can’t tell, I’m a little too emotional to give this a proper review. I have no idea what I’m about to type.
First things first: until THAT THING happened, this was hands down my favorite book in the series, and my favorite Tamora Pierce book that I’ve read. I was just really digging it: the atmosphere, the stakes, the characters, all of it. And then THE THING, which I did not see coming, and which I thought was totally an OOC (out of character) moment. And I just . . . lost my mind?
But first, the good.
Mastiff is the final book in the Beka Cooper trilogy. It picks up three years after Bloodhound, on the morning Beka is burying her fiance, a fellow Dog who was killed in a slaving raid. Everyone expects her to be devastated, but she isn’t. She and Holborn (the dude) had been growing apart for a long time, and she had been about to end it before Holborn died. This puts Beka in a really interesting headspace for the rest of the novel. She throws herself into the Hunt. The Hunt this time? The King has been making changes of late that certain nobles and mages do not approve of (because it takes away some of their super speshful power privileges), so they conspire to kidnap the four year old prince, and kill about half of the summer palace staff in the process. Beka and her partner, Tunstall, are called to work the case because the King doesn’t trust anyone around him, and Achoo is the best scent hound in the city. They’re paired up with a strange mage named Farmer Cape and Tunstall’s lady-knight/lady-friend, Sabine, and set off to track down the little prince, unveiling a conspiracy in the process that’s wrapped up in issues of class, slavery, and power.
I loved the Hunt, and seeing different parts of Tortall. I liked the dynamic between Beka, Tunstall, Sabine and Farmer. I LOVE Farmer, who perplexes Beka by constantly acting like a ‘looby’ in order to get his enemies to underestimate him, and he’s talented and kind and just adorable. It was interesting seeing Pierce working in the cult of the Gentle Mother, which is surely responsible for transforming Tortallan culture for the ladies, making it into a world two hundred years later where in order to be a knight, Alanna would have to dress up like a boy. The central mystery of what happened to the prince and why was also really interesting. There was also a really harrowing scene involving Achoo the doge that had me almost falling off my couch in panic (but she quickly fixed it, also in an interesting manner).
I still think the frame for this was cheesy and unnecessary (we could have figured out on our own that Pounce the cat/constellation in this series was also Faithful the cat/constellation from The Song of the Lioness quartet). But Pierce does have a tendency to slip into cutesy-wutesy mode every once in a while, which is something I knew going into this series, so I can’t really hold it against her. The journal format still creaks and groans under the story. There is no way Beka could have written all those words while on that stressful (and busy) of a Hunt, and the story would have played much better with a plain first person POV. But those are small complaints I’m willing to overlook. THE THING, however, is something I’m having trouble doing that for.
Beware, here be spoilers.
So THE THING: (view spoiler)[Tunstall (the same Tunstall we’ve known and loved now for years) turns out to be a traitor who sabotages their mission half-way through, kills a young boy, and is responsible for who knows what else damage, all because he wanted to marry Lady Sabine and he (a commoner) didn’t think he was worthy. He thought the conspirators would give him land and a title, and Sabine would never be the wiser. Beka catches him out, and he ends up dying of cold and shock in the middle of the night after their big fight. This was a HUGE shock. Tunstall was always portrayed as the sort of man who always did the right thing. We had a definite opinion about him, we loved him, and to have him do this is a betrayal not just to the characters, but to us as readers as well.
And look, I get the impulse here, but I hate it anyway. Pierce has never shied away from writing characters who do morally ambiguous things, and she has always written about the conflicts caused by inequality. When Tunstall ends up explaining himself to Beka (via pigeon as a ghost, of course), his motives sort of retroactively make sense (he even points out that he did tell them the conspirators approached him half-way through and offered him a bribe. He even tells them he accepted that bribe. They all just assume he accepted it as a ruse, when it turns out he didn’t.) But it just didn’t work for me. You can’t take a beloved character like that and just betray everything he stands for, not without a little more build-up at least. We had absolutely no clue that Tunstall was having all these FEELINGS. If we had, we might have felt more emotionally prepared for his betrayal, but as it’s written, it just seems to come out of nowhere, and his explanation after it’s all gone down only serves to blunt the hurt rather than make it acceptable.
I mean, not evening the adorbs of Farmer and Beka getting engaged and the little prince ending slavery could make up for it. (hide spoiler)]