Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Terrier, by Tamora Pierce

I have the trick of reading one-handed down; writing, not so much. It's been a rough couple of weeks*, during which I have read more books than I am currently capable of writing about.

The best of these was the Beka Cooper trilogy, by Tamora Pierce. My sister gifted me the first, Terrier, with a note that said she and her daughter were reading and loving the series. I totally agree with them: these books are amazing.

The spirits of the dead ride pigeonback to their final resting place with the Black God; Beka Cooper has the magical Gift of hearing their voices. She joins the city guards, the Dogs; her Gift is very useful in this career. Born into poverty, herself, she's determined to protect the downtrodden folk of the Lower City, who have no one to turn to but the Dogs - and Beka knows from experience that often even the Dogs don't answer.

The trilogy is a set of Beka's journals, written either as memory exercises to improve her writing skills for her official reports, or as a record of a Hunt as it happens, in case she winds up too dead to make that official report. I love Beka's voice: she uses Lower City slang, and Dog slang, that really makes her sound like a lower-class fantasy-world newbie cop. She's confident or enraged or depressed as appropriate for the moment in which she's writing the journal entry.

I love that she makes newbie mistakes, in accordance with her actual newbie status. She goes in thinking she's going to be the hottest hotshot ever, and almost right away screws up, and the journal entry for that day is so terribly, realistically disheartened and disillusioned. She's talented, but she's inexperienced, and her actions reflect that.

I like the romance arcs: in most stories, you meet the love interest right away, and their happily ever after is just waiting to happen. But that's not how it happens in real life; this is one of the ways in which fairy tales sabotage our expectations for reality, so I'm glad to see that model broken here. Beka does not meet her soul mate in the first book, nor in the second. Instead, she dates. She has to deal with lust, bad news boys to avoid, breakups, guilt, death, trust issues. It isn't a simple Girl Meets Boy, with everything working out for the lovebirds in the end; she goes through several boys where it just isn't going to work out. I like that it isn't happily ever after for Beka on the first try.

Additionally, Beka has no interest in having her Dog career cut short by pregnancy, nor in returning to the slums as just another victim instead of as a protector, so she's very careful about who she gets involved with, how close she gets to him, and using precautions when she does decide to hook up with the dude. There's no glossing over the potential consequences of having sex. Beka knows that It Could Happen To Her, so she takes action to make sure it doesn't. I like that this is happening in a young adult book.

The second book (Bloodhound) is about counterfeiting. I would not have expected that to be enthralling, but it was. Who knew?

The third (Mastiff) is about the major Hunt that makes Beka important enough that her descendants are calling her their famous ancestress. I liked that one a lot, too, although the heartbreaking twist at the end is pretty heartbreaking. I, like Beka, would have preferred that certain asses had not set themselves up for needing kicked. One of the characters has a big choice to make, and chooses poorly. It's a much more interesting story for having happened like that, but it's still the sort of thing where you want to yell at the pages, far too late, Don't do it!

* Childbirth sucks. Where's my goddamn uterine replicator, already?


  1. And Dog-theme'd titles. I get it.

    "I, like Beka, would have preferred that certain asses had not set themselves up for needing kicked."

    That's a good line.

    "Uterine replicator"? ...Is that what they use to make clones?

  2. Uterine replicators are from Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series - they're like artificial wombs, so a woman doesn't have to go through all that barbaric biological bullshit herself. You just grow your kid in a vat, instead of in your body.

    They do get used for clones, in the books, as well as for everyday babies. They have been much on my mind, of late.