Beka is a sixteen-year-old "puppy," a new member of the Lord Provost's city guards, known as "dogs." She's from the lower city, but was raised in the household of the Lord Provost himself, after she was so persistent and clever at solving a crime when she was just a child, which brought her to the Lord Provost's attention.
The book opens as she takes her first steps as a puppy, having just finished her years of training. She is astonished to find herself assigned to one of the most renowned pairs of dogs in the entire city - and they are just as astonished as she is. She has much to learn - and some things she learns the hard - not to mention excruciatingly embarrassing - way, but they have a lot to learn from her, too.
Beka is excruciatingly timid, but she has some unusual talents that lend themselves to investigative work. One is that she can hear the ghosts that ride the backs of the city's pigeons, as pigeons are the emissaries that carry souls on to the afterlife. The souls are talkative but are not capable of coherent conversation, so the reader garners clues along with Beka, and can try to piece them together along with her. Beka will need this and her other talents (which involve dust spinners and a talking cat) when she is called on to solve several mysteries, one involving the disappearance of dozens of the city's residents, and another involving kidnapping, blackmail, and an insidious criminal known only as the shadowsnake.
I have been a fan of Tamora Pierce's work for years, and this is an excellent addition to the Tortall books, set several hundred years before her first series. The blending of mystery and fantasy worked very well, and will be appealing to fans of both genres. I also enjoyed the fact that, in Beka's world, the lines between right and wrong are rather ambiguous. There are payoffs to be made to the criminal element of the city, and she is told that it is acceptable to take bribes (as long as she offers a percentage to her dog partners). She becomes good friends with people who are on the questionable side of the law, which sets up an interesting tension that I expect will be explored in future books.
Books in the Beka Cooper series:
3. Mastiff (forthcoming 2010)
Terrier (#1 in the Beka Cooper series) by Tamora Pierce; narrated by Susan Denaker (Listening Library/Random House Audio, 2006)
Also reviewed at:
All Booked Up: "Tamora Pierce has woven in some unique twists that kept me up late reading the book (and this was on a re-read)."
Today's Adventure: "This is one of the good ones. Beka Cooper is essentially a teenaged, medieval rookie cop. This book combines elements of both the mystery/crime and fantasy genres (no dragons or elves). It tells a compelling story that kept the pages turning."
Wands and Worlds: "Beka is an absolutely fascinating and compelling character, and the first person point of view draws you in to her world and makes you identify with her from the first. The other characters in the book, from Dogs to criminals to ordinary people, are equally interesting and well-developed."
Words by Annie: "It was neat how the book was a mix of thriller and fantasy. Beka's magic was also different and interesting, but you will have to read the book to see what I mean."