The Beka Cooper Trilogy: Terrier and Bloodhound

terrier By Tamora Pierce [Pierce at LibraryThingPierce at Amazon]

For years, Beka has dreamed of becoming one of the Provost’s Dogs, the guards who keep law and order in the kingdom of Tortall. Now she has joined their ranks, but her talent for sniffing out conspiracies and going after the powerful criminals behind them may get her killed before she has a chance to enjoy it. But Beka’s got one weapon no Rat can escape: she can hear the voices of the dead.

The summer I was eleven, one of my bunkmates at camp lent me Tamora Pierce’s In the Hands of the Goddess, the second of four books about Alanna, a girl who disguises herself as a boy in order to become a knight. It was the book I’d wanted desperately all my life and hadn’t known I wanted, made-to-order for an eleven-year-old girl who wanted nothing more than to be a knight-sorceress herself. When the summer was over, I immediately tracked down the rest of the series and devoured it – and every Tortall book thereafter. I’m not totally a wild-eyed Tamora Pierce zealot – I didn’t really like the Protector of the Small series, and I’ve only read a couple of her non-Tortall books, though I do intend to read them all – but I figure it’s only fair to let you know before you read this review that, say, I listed Alanna as my hero on my college applications.

With my bias out in the open, I can go ahead and say that the Beka Cooper books are phenomenal. The trilogy takes place 200 years before Alanna’s time, before women were forbidden to be warriors. Beka herself is the ancestor of George Cooper, a major character in the Alanna books and one of my favorites. That on its own would endear her to me, but it’s really Pierce’s skill at crafting heroines that makes her such a strong, engaging character. Like Alanna, Daine, Kel, and Aly before her (or after her, depending on how you look at it), she’s smart, determined, and a scrapper, but she’s very much her own person, too.

bloodhound In large part this comes from having a perspective completely different than the previous Tortallan heroines. Where Daine is a rural commoner and the other three are nobility, Beka comes from urban poor. Pierce paints a rich and complete picture of life in the meanest, dirtiest streets in the Lower City, with all the moral complexities therein: the complicated and mostly unspoken agreements between the Dogs and the Rats; the laws that don’t sit well with Bea, like the legality of slavery; the occasional corrupt or drunk or stupid Dog and the repercussions they have on the rest of the Dogs and the rest of the city. The elaborate use of Lower City slang in both the dialogue and the narrative (the books are told in first person, almost entirely as part of Beka’s journal, which makes her voice especially strong) enhances this, making the world believable and interesting while still being completely clear and understandable. It opens up a part of Tortall we haven’t seen before, and contributes to the feeling that Beka’s story is older than the others’.

I also really like the way the books are structured. I tend to like plot-driven books, and Pierce, as a more character-driven writer, tends to meander a bit, but the Beka books are basically police procedurals. Each book deals with a particular conspiracy, so while the series is able to be episodic and focus on Beka’s growth, the books themselves are held to a very tight plot structure as Beka and her allies work to uncover the criminals’ plots. It’s a compromise that works very well – Pierce doesn’t have to sacrifice the natural growth of the character, but she avoids the disjointed feel of some of her other books.

And finally, hey, how about a few things you don’t normally see in young adult fantasy, or any media at all: a gay character; a transgender character; a heroine who enjoys having safe, consensual sex with a partner who respects her and isn’t punished or judged for it. All of those were in the Beka books, and all of those made me happy as a reader to see – let alone the benefit of tolerant, safe-sex-positive books for Pierce’s target audience of tween girls.

As you can probably tell from this review so far, the Beka Cooper books are running on five cupcakes so far. My only complaint is that now I have to wait at least a year for the next one. Ah, well, I can always reread the Alanna books again.

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    5 Responses to “The Beka Cooper Trilogy: Terrier and Bloodhound”

    1. Rebecca says:

      So. These books. These are on your okay-to-loan list, right? Because I might desperately need them.

    2. Lee Wind says:

      A gay character? A transgender character? Who? Are they major characters? I LOVED Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen!
      And I’m so delighted to be on your blogroll…
      Your site ROCKS!
      thanks again,
      Namaste,
      Lee

    3. Jessica says:

      Becks: Um, DUH. I WILL FORCE THEM INTO YOUR HEAD.

      Lee: They are pretty important supporting characters in the second book – one of the higher-ups among the Dogs and his lover. And they are both really smart and competent, which is awesome. Glad you like the site!

    4. carolyn says:

      You know I love these books, and that I love love love Beka. Given that, and given how overwhelmingly positive your review is, and now that you’ve finally read them and I won’t spoil anything, I’m going to list some of my beefs with the Beka books:

      1. They are TOO plot-driven. I wish Tammy would focus a bit more on the characters, including Beka. We don’t see much character growth in the first 2 books in Beka, and we don’t see any growth in anyone else at all. Beka’s not exploring new powers or feelings, like Daine, or struggling to manage 2 identities, like Alanna. And who would you even say is the second-most important character? The cat?

      2. Beka is not very nice to her friends. They would travel to the ends of the earth to help her, and risk their lives all the time to stand by her…and I’m not really sure why. She never seems to add anything to the conversations except maybe insults to Rosto (which, fine, he deserves, but they aren’t terribly clever) and talk about her latest investigation. They’re like her loyal followers, and she never really seems to reciprocate (the notable exception being Tansy, who doesn’t even appear in book 2).

      I think these problems are really clear in Bloodhound; I didn’t have these complaints so much in the first book, although I do remember wondering why Rosto and his 2 gal pals are so obsessed with Beka when she barely offers them a civil word. I guess I just feel like Pierce takes a lot for granted in this story–that Beka is already developed, that her friends already love her–without really showing us how or why.

    5. […] really enjoyed the first two Beka Cooper books, and would have reread them before I read this one, but since all of my books are currently sitting […]

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