Sunday, May 3, 2009

A Review of Bloodhound (Beka Cooper Book Two) by Tamora Pierce

Is bibliophilia contagious, like swine flu? (Sorry, pig farmers: like 2009 H1N1?) Take a look at the evidence in a recent case study I’ve inadvertently conducted. It started with my sister asking to borrow my children’s books. She began leaving the TV off and making her way through my large library. Next she wanted gift cards to bookstores for Christmas so she could get her own copies of her favorites, and she was unwilling to relinquish my copies until they’d all been replaced. Now she’s waiting with me for certain books to come out, most notably the sequel to Megan Whalen Turner’s The King of Attolia, apparently expected in 2010.

The point is, I gave up my brand-new Beka Cooper, Bloodhound, about five seconds after I finished reading it because Krista had been waiting for it just as breathlessly as I had. No matter my protests that I planned to review it for my blog this weekend—the girl is relentless! All I can say is thank heavens for appendices. I printed out a copy of Tamora Pierce’s six-page list of characters, four-page glossary of local terms, and one-page list of dog commands before handing over the book, so I’m armed and ready.

For those of you who keep up with Pierce’s action-fantasy series, Beka Cooper is an ancestor of George Cooper, Alanna’s pirate husband in the Song of the Lioness Quartet. For those of you who watch TV shows like Law and Order, you’ll recognize the Beka Cooper books as police procedurals.

The cops in Corus, the capital city of Tortall, are called the Provost’s Dogs in this era, with supporting slang referring to their barracks as kennels and trainees as puppies. Besides being a lot of fun, these designations give us the book titles and deliberately apt metaphors for Beka: Terrier and Bloodhound.

Beka comes from the streets, so she’s mildly accepting of bad behavior in a “you’d better not do that where I can see you” kind of way—note that her housemates include Corus’s slightly moral Rogue or crime lord, Rosto, who has a cranky crush on Beka. But mostly Beka is completely, pigheadedly determined to uphold justice and catch the bad guys, even if that means putting herself in extreme danger and stirring the pot of city politics. I’ll just mention that Beka reminds me of a young (and sober) Sam Vimes from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books, with maybe a little Captain Carrot thrown in, to boot.

In this fantasy series, Beka has a couple of magical tools at her disposal: she can hear the talk of the ghosts that sometimes ride the city’s pigeons, and she can also hear the scraps of conversation hoarded by the city’s dust devils. These are lovely creative touches from Pierce. A magical cat has been helping her, as well, though he steps out of the picture for much of the current book.

Did you know that flooding an economy with false coin can bring about rampant inflation, starvation, and riots? After one such riot in Corus, Beka heads south to Port Caynn, the suspected source of the counterfeit coins. She accompanies Corporal Guardswoman Clara Goodwin, whose partner has been badly injured in the riot. Beka’s other companion is a scent hound named Achoo Curlypaws that she has rescued from an abusive new handler. Achoo is a terrific addition to these books and obviously shares title character rights with Beka.

As a not-so-undercover cop in Port Caynn, Beka gets involved with a group of gamblers who seem to know something about the counterfeiting, eventually taking a lover named Dale Rowan from among them. Unfortunately, she’s afraid he’s one of the counterfeiters, so she can’t completely trust him.

Beka quickly runs afoul of the City Rogue, a crude and terrifying crime boss named Pearl Skinner. Beka being Beka, she’s not that shaken up about becoming Pearl’s enemy. She even plays an especially brazen trick on the woman while on the run late in the book.

Bloodhound is full of jargon and street slang, which may throw some readers off a little. Just keep in mind that a cove is a man, a mot is a woman, and a cole is a false coin; the rest will follow after a few chapters. You may also be alarmed by the sheer size of Pierce’s cast of characters: a quick count gives us 83. And this is a pretty big book, 560 pages long.

I found that the slang and the page length and the number of characters simply weren’t a problem because Tamora Pierce is what people call a consummate storyteller. The tale just keeps pulling you along as you look forward to finding out what Beka will do next, how she’ll survive it, and of course, how the counterfeiting ring operates.

In answer to my previous question, yes, bibliophilia is contagious. And Tamora Pierce’s writing is particularly virulant, so read it with full awareness that you might very well become infected.

Note for Worried Parents: This is a Young Adult book, and it’s also a cop book, so there’s plenty of violence and a little sex, too. Though not presented in a really offensive way, they’re not oblique, either.


Anonymous said...

Alright already, I'll go buy the book! Not that I needed much convincing - loved the first one - but your review has cemented it for me.

Kate Coombs said...

Hee. Well, my sister liked the first one better, but apparently she was going through Rosto withdrawal. I'm interested to hear what you think!

Unknown said...

Yes, I thought the characters were much more interesting in the first book and I have to admit I missed Rosto & Beka's interactions. I'm hoping she'll bring them all back in the next book.

Unknown said...

I forgot to mention that I am in the process of putting non-fave books in boxes to make room for all my new-faves (from Kate's extensive list)

Kate Coombs said...

You're right about Rosto vs. Dale! I suppose it's the timeless appeal of the bad boy (as opposed to the boy next door). So thanks for the warning--my hopes are now down. :)