by Tamora Pierce
"The Lower City is MINE, Its People are MINE.
If I Find Them That's Doing All This Kidnapping
And Murdering, They'd Best Pray For Mercy,
Because Once I Get My Teeth In 'Em
I Will NEVER Let Them Go. "
Beka Cooper (ancestor of George Cooper of the Song of the Lioness quartet) is a new Puppy (cadet) in the Dogs (police force) of Tortall. This book chronicles her first year in the Dogs as she learns to overcome her shyness and track down some of the most dangerous criminals in Tortall, right in her own backyard. She is against incredible odds, but she has the advantage of being able to hear the voices of the dead.
I was worried this book would be just like every other Tamora Pierce novel. Don't misunderstand, her Song of the Lioness quartet was a formative book for me, but I started to feel after reading Protector of the Small that her stories were a bit formulaic. Pierce breaks out of her usual setting of knights and nobles to tramp through the dark and dirty allies of the Lower City, the poor section of the capital. Instead of battles and court intrigue, Beka deals with drunkards, murderers, and thieves in the section of the city where she was born. It has a very local feeling to it. While the other books dealt with the fates of kingdoms, this book's danger has immediate and intimate consequences.
While Pierce seems to try to give Beka a separate character from all the heroines before her (i.e. she is shy), she is still the same old girl in a new face: desperate to prove herself, fiercely determined and stubborn, incredibly serious, and feels she is undeserving of any rewards or praise. For once I wish that we had a carefree, funny heroine. (Perhaps the Trickster heroine is this, and I am forgetting?)
Pierce certainly writes many ancillary characters who are filled to the brim with wit, ease and skill. The group of friends that gravitate towards Beka are diverse and sparkling. The descriptions of their cozy breakfasts together made me wish I could walk in on the picnic. Beka's constant companion is a no-nonsense black cat with purple eyes. Who may or may not be a god. Or a constellation. Or Faithful's ancestor or previous life (Faithful was the black, purple eyed cat from Song of the Lioness).
I did enjoy the story, and it was fun to play in the Court of the Rogue, knowing that my favorite character, George Cooper, would rule it one day. The mysteries (there were two main ones which got to be a bit much some times) were entertaining, but I figured out who the culprit was about 1/3 of the way through the book. Maybe it was because I started to do what I do when watching an episode of Castle: looking at familiar writing patterns for clues as to where the author will take the story next.
However, Tamora Pierce was a huge part of my childhood and I am glad that she is still writing solid heroines for new generations!