Now, don't let the synopsis, especially the full synopsis featured in the book, make you think that this is a silly story with skippy puppies and happy rainbows because it features a talking, purple-eyed cat and a bloodhound named Achoo. Quite the opposite. It's a gritty cop story based in the lowest slums of the shining medieval city of Corus. Tamora's books always feature two things: a kick-butt shero1 and an oft times magical managerie. But I digress...
This is quite possibly my favorite Tortall series. It's so easy to put yourself in Beka's shoes, partly because it's told in journal format and her voice is so honest and quirky, partly because it's just an amazing book. Tamora Pierce never fails to create relatable, strong, and heroic protagonists. They're all worthy of rolemodelship2, but I think that Beka is the easiest to relate to, at least for me. Why? Because she's crippled by shyness. I'm outgoing when having fun or just talking to people, I have a firm handshake and will look ya straight in the eye, but put me in a situation where I gotta do business? Not so much. Beka's the same way; she's only comfortable around her close friends or when doing what she's best at, Dog work, but as soon as she puts on her Dog uniform, she transforms into a take charge, tough as nails gal. My favorite scene from the book relating to Beka's lack of confidence was when she and her partner, Clary Goodwin, went to the money changers bank. Beka was so unsure of where to go or what to do that my heart went out to her. I read that thinking, "That's me!"
This book deals with some pretty hard issues; transexuality, bardashers3, "responsible" premarital sex, prostitution, slavery, drinking4, torture, etc. There's also murders, loose Dogs5, criminals of every make and model, and some pretty harsh language, though it can be forgiven because a) it adds so much to the realism of the story. No one tough enough to patrol the Cesspool6 is gonna say, "Gosh, mister, may you come back with that elderly woman's purse, please?". No. And 2) Pierce uses "authentic" language to the period, so it's not quite so bad. The characters cuss up a storm, but they don't use real curse words, if that makes any sense. In fact, there's so many new words in here, that she's included a glossary7. I do so love the glossary.
As for the cove8, Dale Rowan, mentioned in the synopsis... Beka is more sure of herself when it comes nabbing Rats9 than flirting with charming, mischievous men. She learns that, just like putting on her uniform, a dress gives her another personality. She can be more bold with a little lipstick. I'm not sure this is a good outlook, but it helps her to be herself, or a bolder version of herself, around Dale, whom she really likes. But she has doubts about him. Could he be in the ring of colemongers, filling the moneystream with false silver coins and weakening the economy?
There's plenty of crime solving, mystery, romance, and enough action to keep even the most fantasy-skittish reader satisfied. And despite all the warnings I gave about content, everything is dealt with descretely, there's nothing explicit, and I agree fully with the publishers recommendation that this book is suitable for kids 12 and up. And up, and up, and up! Pierces writing has no age limit10 and has remained relevant since she began writing about Tortall's sheroes in '83.
I give Bloodhound...
An excellent continuation to an excellent series. I look forward to reading Mastiff in 2010!
1 Literally; she hero. "Heroine" sounds too druggy.
2 It's a word. Trust me on this, no need to look it up!
3 Bardasher = male homosexual
4 Though, whether I can actually count drinking is a little ify because a) everybody drank back then because the water was not to be trusted, and b) Beka abstains from the hard stuff for the most part.
5 Loose Dogs = crooked cops
6 The lowest and crookedest slum of Corus.
7 Many of her books include both a glossary and a complete Cast of Characters. Very handy.
8 Cove = man
9 Rats = criminals
10 That's what the "A" in "YA" is for. Adults.