Tuesday, December 7, 2010

When You're On A Hunt, You Do Whatever It Takes

Being the second book in a series, this review may contain slight spoilers for the first book, Terrier. I'd suggest you read the book, or at the very least my previous review before reading this.

Provost's Dog Trilogy
Book 2
By Tamora Pierce
Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

No one said growing up would be easy.

Beka's back, now graduated from Puppy-hood and patrolling the streets as a full-fledged Dog. Unfortunately, the Lower City hasn't gotten any easier to handle, especially with rumors of a grain shortage making prices and tempers rise. And if riots weren't enough to keep the Dogs busy, Beka's also on the hunt for a coin counterfeiter who seems set on collapsing the economy entirely.

Good thing Beka's not short of friends she can count on. Between her partners Goodwin and Tunstall, her magical cat companion Pounce, and her friends in the Court of the Rogue, she expects there's nothing that can keep her from catching the mastermind behind the counterfeits. But when the trail leads away to Port Caynn, Beka finds herself losing her familiar company in exchange for new faces. Sure, Achoo the scent-hound should come in handy, but what about this overly charming Dale Rowan and his lot?

It won't be enough for Beka to be her usual "terrier" self. She'll have to learn from Achoo to sniff out the criminals—to be a bloodhound.

Once again, I've got to hand it to whoever writes the jacket description for these books, whether it be Tammy herself, or one of the people at Random House. It's descriptive yet concise, intriguing yet mysterious, and perhaps most importantly, it doesn't spoil anything. Well, perhaps one thing...but it's not that big. I just couldn't help but quote it again, if only for the last lines.

But now moving on to the story itself...it's complicated. On the one hand, Pierce knows how to weave a compelling story with strong characters and an intricate world. And yet...there is so much information here that it took me a couple tries (and a month) to get through the book.

It starts out simply enough. Beka's out of puppy-hood and thus thinks she's done with her journals, but when her reports begin to slip in quality, she's told to start her memory exercises again. And so we're once again reading her incredibly detailed journal entries. The style of the journals doesn't change much from the last book, so if you enjoyed it last time you're in for more of the same pleasure.

That's not to say that Beka hasn't changed, of course. She's definitely done a lot of growing in the year since we last read her entries. Less worried about making the right impression among her fellows, she's gotten a bit bolder in her Dog work. That doesn't mean she isn't still shy at times, but she's become more comfortable as Beka the Dog since we last saw her. That isn't to say she's fully grown and invincible, of course. Pierce is always great at showing us characters who get stronger but still aren't infallible, and Beka was wonderful to follow.

The secondary characters are hit and miss. We lose a lot of those whom we met in Terrier with the change in location, and those who take their places...are a tad too numerous. Sure, I fell in love with Nestor and Okha, I grew to like Hanse, Dale, Steen and some of the street urchins, I grew to dislike the villains, but there were probably still 20-some more recurring characters whom I felt ambivalent about. This was one of those times where I felt could have used a little 'less is more' strategy.

Actually, I felt that way about the new setting as well. Sure, Port Caynn is a new city, and in order to get the feel right we're given a lot of description. And I mean a lot—possibly even more than Corus got in the last book. The world-building took up a lot of the book, and while I appreciated the thoroughness of Pierce/Beka, I think it may have helped cause the lull I got caught in half-way through.

My other theory as to why I had trouble half-way through was the whole premise of the book had to do with catching counterfeiters instead of murderers. Yes, I know it's a serious problem and it's described many, many times how it affects the economy and, in turn, the well-being of the people (especially the poor). You'd think being in the middle of an economic depression would make me more engaged with the story...but there just seemed to be less urgency to the whole thing. Everything was subtler: the clues, the crime, the chase... Needless to say, I didn't have trouble setting the book aside for a month.

That isn't to say that there wasn't anything compelling about the story, there just wasn't as much of what I expected. Romance ramps up a bit in this one, and things are definitely a lot more touchy-feely than in the last book. And, while sex is alluded to quite openly, it all takes place behind closed doors. Unfortunately for me (again), it wasn't with who I wanted...and at times I thought the romance was unnecessary to the story...but on the whole I thought it was fairly realistic and handled well.

Overall, I'd definitely recommend this one for history buffs, YA fantasy lovers, or Tortallian fans (who have read Terrier first). It might be better received by older teens, especially those who have a bit more patience, but I didn't see any material that would be difficult for younger teens to understand. Though perhaps not what I expected, it was still a fun and exciting adventure through Tortall, and I can hardly wait for the thrilling series conclusion, Mastiff, to come out in 2011!

Approximate Reading Time: 9 Hours