The Legend of Beka Cooper consists of three books: Terrier, Bloodhound, and Mastiff
by Tamora Pierce
October 24, 2006; April 14, 2009; October 25, 2011
Purchased all Three
Overall Grade: A
Synopsis from Terrier: Tamora Pierce begins a new Tortall trilogy introducing Beka Cooper, an amazing young woman who lived 200 years before Pierce's popular Alanna character. For the first time, Pierce employs first-person narration in a novel, bringing readers even closer to a character that they will love for her unusual talents and tough personality.
Beka Cooper is a rookie with the law-enforcing Provost's Guard, and she's been assigned to the Lower City. It's a tough beat that's about to get tougher, as Beka's limited ability to communicate with the dead clues her in to an underworld conspiracy. Someone close to Beka is using dark magic to profit from the Lower City's criminal enterprises—and the result is a crime wave the likes of which the Provost's Guard has never seen before.
With the publication of Mastiff over the weekend, the Beka Cooper trilogy is finally complete. I stayed up all night Saturday to finish it, and while I’d feel silly writing a review of the third book of the trilogy, I figured I’d try to write a quick review of the trilogy as a whole for those who haven’t picked it up.
The Beka trilogy (or, more properly The Legend of Beka Cooper) is different from the majority of Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books in that you don’t really need to know anything about the multitude of other series because it’s set about 200 years prior to the general action. It’s also really, really good.
Beka Cooper begins as a trainee Dog (a Puppy) - one of the Guards who act as police in the capital city of Corus. In the Lower City, the Dogs are vastly outnumbered by thieves, slavers and murderers, and 2 Puppies in ten die before their year of training is up. She’s incredibly shy but determined to protect her people and her city as well as she possibly can.
Each book is told through Beka’s journalling of the events, and while sometimes the journals feel more like simple first person narration, I love that we get not only the action and conversation that occurred but also Beka’s thoughts and reflections on the situation. She has a very definite viewpoint on the proper way of things (which, happily, is not the same as a modern person’s proper way of things), and her devotion to duty and sense of humour shine through the writing. I also really enjoy that Beka often brings up the memory tricks (memory palace!) she was taught that allow her to remember events as accurately as possible.
Through the three books, we get to watch Beka grow from a shy adolescent Puppy to a fully grown woman confident in her own power and capabilities. It’s a really well done character arc, and while Beka at the end of Mastiff is very, very different from the girl at the beginning of Terrier, the path she took to get there is completely clear.
Along with Beka, we get a wide range of secondary characters from the other Dogs at the station to some colorful ladies and gentlemen who range themselves on the other side of the law to Beka’s siblings and friends in the Lower City. Her training officers, Goodwin and Tunstall, are some of my favourite characters. They’re wonderfully written hard-bitten and incredibly competent police officers who teach Beka the ropes of their difficult and dangerous job. I also adore the flirtatious and snarky Rosto the Piper who manages to make friends with Beka even though he definitely has little use for minor things like laws against thievery or murder.
As opposed to a more typical fantasy world storyline, these books all are police procedurals with definite homages to the classics of the genre. Gods and magic come into play as they always do in Tortall, but the relationship of Beka and her compatriots to most mages is one of slightly annoyed cooperation. Think of the reactions of Law & Order detectives to the psychologists or sometimes lawyers - it’s kind of awesome especially from the typical fantasy perspective of mages as the ultimate source of knowledge and competence.
There’s a lot of dialect and slang in these three books, but most of the terms are either easily understood from context or there’s a nice glossary and cast of characters at the back of each book. I’m not the best judge because I don’t have much of an issue with crazy fantasy dialects, but I don’t believe they’d cause much of a hurdle for a new reader.
Most of this review is towards non-Tortall readers, but if you have read some Tortall books, you'll get even more out of these books including bookend cameos by that other slightly less law-abiding Cooper, George, and a starring role by one particular black Cat with purple eyes. Also a really neat look at how society was before lady knights faded away and bits about why that changed (beyond, you know, making Alanna special).
These is a seriously fantastic trilogy. The Aly books (Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen) remain my favourite Tortall series, but I can’t help but look at Beka Cooper’s trilogy as the best written. The first and third books are stellar, and while the second droops a little under the weight of second book syndrome, it’s still a worthwhile and good read. If you haven’t read any Tamora Pierce yet, consider starting here. She’s one of the godmothers of the strong YA heroine, and she’s worth reading by every YA reader who loves powerful and capable characters.