Thursday, December 17, 2009

Best Books of 2009: Bloodhound

It's that time of year again, and your friendly neighborhood librarians are eager to tell you about the best books of 2009. Here is Melissa with a review of her favorite book of the year.

Young Adult author Tamora Pierce is a wonderful “world-builder.” The kingdom of Tortall is the environment for her YA novels, and she has done an excellent job of creating a semi-feudal land populated by knights and ladies (and some knights who are also ladies), master craftspeople and master thieves, commoners and…oh yes, let’s not forget the supernatural “people” who also sometimes show up.

The thing I like about her books is that rather than write one long series with a particular cast of characters, she has broken down the Tortall legend into small cycles of three or four books, that come at the world and its events from many different perspectives, using major protagonists from one cycle as minor players in the others. There are the four Song of the Lioness books, in which Alanna disguises herself as a boy to learn to become a knight; the quartet called The Immortals, which features Daine, a 13-year-old orphan whose gift is to communicate with animals; the Protector of the Small series, documenting Keladry’s quest to follow in Alanna’s footsteps; the two Daughter of the Lioness books, which take Alanna’s daughter, Alianne, to the Copper Isles after she is captured by pirates and sold into slavery; and finally, the Legend of Beka Cooper books—Terrier, and Bloodhound (with a third book, Mastiff, due out sometime in 2010). Bloodhound is one of my absolute favorite books of 2009.

Terrier, the first book (2006), gets away from the lords and ladies of the other series and introduces Beka Cooper, an orphaned 16-year-old with some special gifts that lead her from the Lower City (the slums) of Tortall into a career as a “Dog,” or police officer, in the Provost’s Guard. She is assigned as a trainee (“puppy”) to two veterans, Tunstall and Goodwin, and proves herself as an officer who hangs onto a case like a terrier until it’s solved.

In Bloodhound, her second year on the force is documented in the pages of her journal, and it’s quite a ride. As a new Dog, she is matched up with four different partners who don’t work out, and she ends up instead working with Achoo, a scent hound she rescues from his abusive handler. She and Clary Goodwin, her former trainer, are then sent down the river to Port Caynn, on a secret investigation to discover who is behind the spread of counterfeit silver coins that are destroying the economy. She falls in love, falls afoul of the Queen of the Port Caynn Thieves, and earns her new nickname as she doggedly (pun intended) pursues the solution to the case.

The thing I love about these two books—particularly the second one, since Beka is now fully into her career as a Dog—is that they so fluidly combine medieval fantasy with mystery and police procedural, using a memoir format—all my favorite genres rolled into one! The characters are engaging, the situations are surprisingly sophisticated (how many young adult novels also expound on the effects of counterfeiting on a nation’s economy?), and the mystery is well paced and satisfying. I’m so looking forward to the third book.

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