Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dig Your Teeth In And Don't Let Go!

I've been a long-time fan of Tamora Pierce's books. In fact, she was one of the first (if not the first) authors who introduced me to the realm of fantasy and strong heroines. Before now, I would say my favorite heroine was Tris from the Circle of Magic series: she's stubborn, bookish, a bit plump, and easily riled, but her loyalty and friendship are true.

However, even with Tris as my favorite character, the Tortall books have always been my preference. Alanna's bravery captured my heart, Daine's abilities won my adoration, Kel's determination earned my respect, and Ali's cunning stole my imagination. But even more, the world was one of medieval grandeur. It was rich and detailed, but at the same time open to imagination and interpretation. It was both historically realistic and fantastical with magic and mythology woven in.

Not only that, but with each series, characters we had already grown to love would make reappearances. It was always a joy to see a familiar face even as you're reading along with another heroine's journey.

This time, however, we're given a series set about 150 years before Alanna's journey began. That security blanket is gone, and we're forging ahead alone once again...

Provost's Dog Trilogy
Book 1
By Tamora Pierce
Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

(After 2 hours of trying to craft my own summary, I've decided that the original book copy is probably the best starting point...)

In 246 H.E., the Provost's Dogs guard Tortall's capital city. Beka Cooper is one of their newest trainees—a Puppy wet behind the ears but eager to learn. But Beka will have to learn faster than she bargained for because she's assigned to the Lower City, Corus's toughest district. It's filled with pickpockets who are fast as lightning, rogues who will knock your teeth out with a smile, and murderers with hidden plans.

Luckily, Beka's got a few tricks up her sleeve. Gifted with the ability to hear murdered spirits, she's already discovered two separate killing sprees. Unfortunately, the dead aren't very detailed, and going on half the facts can get a Dog killed. It'll take all of Beka's smarts and skills if she's going to track down these murderers. If she doesn't get killed in the meantime....

I must admit, Terrier was a wonderful break from the slough of paranormal YA I've been reading recently. Nothing against any of those books, mind you, but this book was a welcome breath of fresh air. It has action, mystery, investigation, and just that tiny hint of magic that lets you know anything's possible. The magic is there, but it's more of a whisper than a major player, leaving the characters to rely on more 'conventional' methods.

Even though, as I said earlier, Tris was probably my favorite character, Beka and I instantly clicked. She's smart, headstrong, loyal, but at the same time unbearably shy around her superiors to the point that she can barely get out a full sentence. Yet, because we're in her head, we know she's not an idiot and she doesn't mean to waste anyone's time, and she's kicking herself for not being stronger. Now, who can't relate to that?

Oh, you caught that? That's right, this book is written in 1st person—the first of the Tortall books to be done so. Though some might see it as merely a conformity to the fad that is running rampant through current YA fiction, I cannot stress enough how wrong they would be.

Terrier is written as a series of journal entries—and not your typical, "Dear Diary, I hope Brad asks me to the prom," either. Done in the style of police reports, Beka's entries are extremely detailed and strictly business. Perhaps Beka introduces them best:
Written on the morning of my first day of duty.
I have this journal that I mean to use as a record of my days in the Provost's Guard. Should I survive my first year as a Puppy, it will give me good practice for writing reports when I am a proper Dog. By setting down as much as I can remember word by word, especially in talk with folk about the city, I will keep my memory exercises sharp. (Terrier 21)
Of course, since these are only practice, you can't expect everything to be without personality. I think my favorite quips were her beginning notes about her 'peaches' not being too large, but it being alright because she was not in the market for a man. Pierce lets Beka's personality shine through the narrative, while still giving us a compelling adventure and mystery.

If I had one complaint... Since these are Beka's journals, meant for her eyes only, she often doesn't describe 'commonly known' terms. While some vocabulary terms' (like peaches) meanings are easily worked out, some other terms require a glossary. Luckily, Pierce includes one in the back of all her books. Nearly everything and everyone you need to know is located in the back of the book.

However, I still had trouble picking out the names. Beka's two partners, Matthias Tunstall and Clara Goodwin are referred to by both nicknames and last names multiple times in the first chapter. Even with the glossary, the slang took some getting used to as well. Also, the term "cove" is used throughout the book to mean male, man, or boy, but is never clearly defined and is left out of the glossary. Eventually (around the second chapter) my mind made the transition and everything clicked into place.

(I see that cove has been included in the sequel's glossary and means "man".)

Age-wise, I'd recommend a slightly older audience. Romance isn't an issue for Beka (thank goodness—a break from love triangles!) but there are allusions to sex and promiscuity. The book deals with murder, and though there aren't any graphic scenes, death and crime are main players. Plus, just because of the nature of the narration, Terrier might not capture younger readers' attention right away. Probably middle school or older would enjoy these the best.

Overall, if you enjoy YA literature, if you want the teen without the teen drama, or if you want strong, relateable, heroines, you MUST give Tamora Pierce a read. Whether you're looking for adventure, mythology, spies, mages, knights, teachers, or detectives, she's got you covered. For anyone who hasn't yet read Tamora Pierce, the Provost's Dog (aka Beka Cooper) series is certainly a great place to start. And for those who have already fallen in love with Pierce, you'll want to check out this latest venture into Tortall.

Approximate Reading Time: 7.5 Hours