I am admittedly a Tamora Pierce fangirl. I’ve been following her latest Provost’s Dog book since the title was originally Elkhound (though I’m only half-way certain I’m remembering that title right, it’s been a while). When I read the summary that involved the main character, Rebekah “Beka” Cooper’s betrothed being dead, I had to pick it up immediately just to be certain that it wasn’t Rosto.
On that front, I was both relieved and disappointed. Yes, Beka and Rosto continue to be friends, but it appears that all hopes of the irony of the best Dog (slang for city Guard) in Corus and the Rogue having kiddies that lead to a certain future Rogue and his adventures with a Lioness are officially dead. I’m happy that Beka kept to her conventions, since one of the signatures of Pierce’s heroines is the fact they rarely do what they are supposed to do by traditional heroine standards. But still, my OTP is dead, and that is just a little sad.
As for the text itself, I found a few little contradictions with earlier books. Despite having an upset stomach just on the river in the previous book, Beka apparently takes to sea travel like a pelican? Not to mention her love of maps and various other little quirks got further exaggerated than I would have liked. Made me laugh, yes. But a couple of times I was going, “Ooookay, is she still sane?” Not to mention an animal’s name changing in two pages, which is unusually for Pierce. I also find it strange that the young prince mentioned in the text is only four. The king was already remarried in Terrier, yet it took them so long to have a child, despite pressure for an heir? That just seems bizarre to me. That, or I’m not following the years right. It is difficult to do so with these books, perhaps because the years all blend together for Beka, another strange trait for a Dog. Gareth’s intelligence also is a little weird. Is he supposed to be some sort of genius? If so, he’s pushing it at four. Like, badly pushing it.
However, the flow of the hunt was amazing. I had wondered how she was going to top the previous book, but she did so with very little effort. It was a neat, consecutive build up, featuring lots of bits and pieces from the previous books. She obviously knew where her stories were going not just for each book, but for the series as a whole, and I have to admire that in a writer. Plus, unlike with a lot texts I’ve been reading lately, I didn’t catch on to who the traitor was, and I actually had to reread the book and then the rest of the series for it to be okay with me. It just takes you so by surprise, it takes a lot of little clues from not only Mastiff but also from Terrier and Bloodhound for it to sit right with the reader.
Character wise, I liked the new mage, but his personality’s shifting was confusing. I understand not wanting anyone to really know who he is or how powerful he is, but at the same time there got to be a point where as the reader I didn’t know who he was, despite Beka knowing. That might be a problem with the story being in first person, but it might also be a fluidity to his character that is just a little too much when combined with the constantly changing setting. I did like the further characterization of Sabine, and the beginnings of wild magic being discussed. That was just awesome sauce. Drummer and Steady were just as endearing as Peachblossom in their own way, despite having less face time than him, and Saucebox just made me laugh.
Pounce’s characterization remained interesting. You really had no idea how much he dabbled until this book, or how his relation with the gods worked. We still don’t have a good idea, which I like, but at the same time we have a deeper understanding that is harder to articulate. His bond with heroes isn’t as unique as we might think, and I would like to see some of his other companions, such as the one he tells Beka and the other Hunters about.
Overall, Mastiff is a fitting conclusion to Pierce’s first dabbling in diary-format. I can’t say that it’s better than her novels, but she had an interesting way of using the format to her advantage. I’m curious to see which she uses for the next book in her line-up, diary or standard novel. (Inwardly, I’m hoping novel. It’s easier to keep straight and get descriptions without sorting through slang.)