I remember starting to read this trilogy back in high school, almost five years ago, so I'm both happy and sad to come to the end of it. Happy because, well, who doesn't like getting all the way through a good story, sad because I think that Beka is my favorite or tied for my favorite Tamore Pierce heroine and, since her story is set 200 years before all her other stories in this 'verse, there won't be any more stories about her except for maybe a short story or two in the future. But at least this story has a strong ending and one that's satisfying enough that I don't mind the series is now over.
Mastiff by Tamora Pierce
Sadly this cover has some of the worst looking photoshop I've seen all year on it which baffles me since the other two covers look just fine. It's easier to see if you have a copy of the book in front of you but the hands show that the arm on the left is facing the viewer and the arm on the right is facing the mountains, ie one of those arms is backwards, and the way her head is twisted back doesn't look like a natural pose. I noticed something was off the first time I found the book in a bookstore so this isn't a problem you only notice if you're looking at it, this is a cover where the quality control missed a major problem and it makes me wince every time I look at it.
Summary: It's been a couple of years since Beka became a full-fledged Dog (cop) and has dealt with many other cases but none so big as the ones in the previous two books. That is about to change however, the heir to the kingdom has been kidnapped and a curse has been placed on him that is slowly killing his parents as well. Beka, her scent hound Achoo and her partner Turnstall are put on the case and it's going to take all the talent and luck they have to bring him home.
The Good: I often complain about settings in stories but here we have a magnificent setting, one that is more realistic than the kind you would find in most realistic fiction stories. The setting, a country that has had a few rough years for the lower classes and an upper class that is resisting higher taxes to help cover these costs (hmmmm, I wonder what that sounds like), ultimately affects everything in the plot (every character's motivation, it instigates the plot, ect) and the story would not work nearly so well without it. The setting is also an evolving one, there were a few ideas introduced in the previous book (such as this cult for the "Gentle Mother" interpretation of the main goddess) that comes back here and it becomes clear why the setting has changed by the next chronological set of books in this 'verse (where women aren't allowed to become knights which sets up the plot of those books). I also knew there was likely to be some romance in this book, since one of the set-ups for the trilogy is that this is the ancestor to one of the characters 200 years down the line, and I surprised at how well I liked the ensuing romance. Part of the reason I enjoy fantasy so much is that romance is rarely the main theme of the book so it can be much more subtle and exist as a side plot which is exactly what this story did and it's been a while since I was so genuinely pleased at the outcome of the romance.
The Bad: I was spoiled about a twist when I was still early on in the book (it occurs less than a hundred pages to the end so I won't even mention what kind of twist it was) but that was rather frustrating*. To be vague about the twist, even knowing it was coming it still felt a bit too sudden and I really feel like I need to reread the other books since the moment also felt out of place (again, I plan on rereading sometime to see if it really was as out of place as it felt or if there was some foreshadowing I missed but this is how that plot point felt).
It's no secret that I love Tamora Pierce's books and this book was no different. I'm not sure which verse her next book is going to be set in (she has two, this one "The Tortall Verse" and another "The Circle of Magic Verse" and I enjoy both) but I can't wait to see whatever it is.
*and hardly the first time that tor.com has had an unmarked large spoiler like that, I thought that the post was a brief blurb about the book or I would've been more wary (especially after their Summer Wars review gave away a major event with no spoiler warnings at all).