Tuesday, April 24, 2012

You can't read just one: Tamora Pierce's Mastiff and other books

I knew I shouldn't have started reading Mastiff by Tamora Pierce.  It was ginormous, and I had things on my list, and I should have waited until certain of those things were done, but at the rate I am able to accomplish such things these days, it could have been a year before I got to it.  And the cover was beautiful green with shiny bits, and it was on the top of the stack, and I have no self-control after four months.  So I started it.

It is difficult to inhale a book that big.  It takes days (literally takes away any illusion of free time I might have had), and it is like being on a mission.  Someone pointed out that these books are basically police procedurals, and they are a compelling, must-read-to-find-out-how-it-ends/happens/plays out reads.

When I saw indications that this would be the last book in this series, I was a bit sad because I really like Beka.  She's a different kind of heroine from the ones I've read most recently in Tamora Pierce.  Things are murkier in Beka's world.  It's more like the seedy side of the early Guards stuff in Terry Pratchett.  I mean, yes, it's a fantasy world, but it is not a bright, clean fantasy world that reflects idealizations.  The police accept bribes and often operate more like a protection racket.  Corruption is rampant in the courts and on the streets.  There are good cops and bad cops.  Justice is mostly for the wealthy.  In this world of Tortall (a couple hundred years in the past), Beka doesn't seem quite as noble as Alanna and Kel and even Alianne or Dane. 

No one could really accuse any of the aforementioned people of being "good girls," and all of these heroines share some similarities even if their personalities are very different, but Beka, well, there's something darker about Beka.  I wonder if it's the straightforward and pragmatic way she has of seeing her own darkness and the darkness around her.  She accepts her darkness but still trusts her moral compass to point her the right way.  All of these Pierce protagonists stand up for those who can't stand up for themselves in different ways.  I love all the different ways that manifests itself.  Knights errant, mages, police, knight commanders.

Once I finished this last Beka adventure, which had a coda scene connecting it to the future, I unfortunately found myself needing to read the first book in that referenced series immediately.  And then the next and the next and the next.  If only I'd started my Pierce binge chronologically.  After the sprawling and complex Mastiff, going back to the beginning with the Song of the Lioness quartet was a bit jarring and painful.  What, I felt myself asking, amazing things would Pierce do if she were to write the Alanna books at this point in her career? 

And please don't even look at the terrible more recent covers.  Tamora Pierce should sue her publishers for their obvious attempts to make everyone avoid buying her books because the covers need paper bags over them to be tolerated.  Not that I'm bitter.  I just hated recommending her writing to people always prefaced with, "Please ignore the cover.  No, don't run away screaming!  Please!  I swear the books are good!  And we sell book covers!"

The binge stopped for now because I don't have the Immortals series in this state (they are on the middle bookshelf in my parents' basement in a state far away), and I managed to convince myself the rest had to be read in order, so I could appreciate Pierce's growth as a writer and YA fiction's growth as a genre over the last 30 years.  Huzzah!

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