Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Best of 2011

One of the many items [old and new] enjoyed and recommended by the Library staff during 2011 for your consideration:

I'm also nominating another YA novel (who says we are limited to just one pick per year?) as a "best of" book: The long-awaited Beka Cooper: Mastiff, by Tamora Pierce. We read the first book in this trilogy, Beka Cooper: Terrier, in middle school book club a couple of years ago, and I was so taken with it that I recommended it on this blog; the sequel, Bloodhound, came out pretty quickly after that (and was even better than the first), and then it was a looong wait for #3, as Pierce decided to publish a book of short stories--Tortall and Other Lands--set in her same mythical universe, in between. But finally the book is here, and I enjoyed it every bit as much as the other two.

Pierce has many books (at least four series of four, a series of two, and maybe some free-standing ones) set in Tortall, and I like all that I've read, but I think these three featuring Beka Cooper are my favorites. That's because all the others are about royals, nobles, and mages, but these are about a girl from a disadvantaged background who makes her way into the local police force (the officers are called "Dogs," thus the nicknames applied to Beka) and works hard in the Lower City (slum) neighborhood in which she grew up. So although the background and some elements are fantasy (she has a magical cat, hears the voices of the dead, and picks up gossip by standing in the middle of dust devils on the street), the details feel more realistic due to the day-to-day dealings of she and her partners with the common folk, and in addition you have the police procedural element--the best combination, therefore, of fantasy and mystery, two of my favorite genres.

In this book, Beka is sent on a top secret mission: Enemies have invaded the palace where King Roger and Queen Jessamine and their family and court are summering, and have stolen their son and heir, four-year-old Gareth. Circumstances seem to indicate that it was an inside job, collaborated on by nobles, mages, and slave traders, so with no one else to trust, Beka's boss and mentor, Lord Gershom, assigns Beka and her partners, Tunstall (the human one) and Achoo (the scent hound with whom she works), plus Tunstall's lady love, the knight Sabine, and an unknown mage who goes by the name Farmer, to track the kidnappers and get the prince back. It's an exciting chase, with lots of perils both natural and supernatural, and the interaction of the characters while they do their jobs is, as usual, a big part of the element of enjoyment for me. (There's also a love interest for Beka--yay!) I hope you will check out this wonderful trilogy for yourself. We also have the first two in audiobook, and will be receiving the third shortly, if you prefer listening to the tale of Beka Cooper.

(I have one negative thing to say: I really dislike the cover artwork for this series! No way does this girl with her pale skin and skinny little arms look like Beka. She's pretty...but could she run behind a hound all day, fight off thieves with a baton or a knife or her bare hands, or stare down a criminal? I don't think so...)

Reviewed by Melissa E.

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