A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the conclusion to Tamora Pierce's Beka Cooper fantasy/crime trilogy is even more violent than the previous books in the series. Slaves, including young children, are abused and brutally killed; there are many other deaths and injuries, plus torture, fights (with batons, swords, fists, etc.), arson, and more. The story revolves around a kidnapping, and the main characters are in near-constant peril. Sexuality is less of a theme/issue here than in the previous book in the series, but sex and sexual orientation are still treated matter-of-factly and casually -- though never graphically. Through it all, Beka remains a strong female character who prizes loyalty, duty, and hard work above everything and always stays true to herself.
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What's the story?
MASTIFF picks up approximately three years after the events of Bloodhound; in that time, Lower City Provost's Dog Beka Cooper has apparently acquired -- and lost -- a fiance, fellow Dog Holborn, whose death she's mourning as the book opens. Well, less mourning than regretting, really -- turns out she had been planning to break up with him, and the avalanche of sympathy she's now facing is leaving her quite uncomfortable. So when Lord Provost Gershom recruits Beka; her scent hound, Achoo; and her human partner, Tunstall, to lead a top-secret Hunt, she's relieved to have a distraction. Then she finds out that they'll be hunting for 4-year-old Prince Gareth, who has been kidnapped by ruthless, murderous slavers. As the trio and their companions -- including deceptively rascally mage Master Farmer, powerful Lady Sabine, and inscrutable Pounce the cat -- follow the prince's trail, they realize that there's even more afoot than they knew ... and that rescuing the prince could mean rescuing the realm as well.
Is it any good?
There's no question that Mastiff brings Beka's story to an exciting and mostly satisfying conclusion, but the book has more rough spots than most of Pierce's other novels. The abrupt introduction of a dead fiance whom readers never got a chance to meet feels awkward and makes it difficult to jump right into the story; the whole situation frankly seems out of character for Beka and unnecessary to the larger story.
Other smaller scenes/moments/incomplete explanations pop up along the way that are just jarring enough to distract readers from what's otherwise a tense crime procedural with some interesting twists and turns, and that's too bad. The book also seems a bit overlong (usually not an issue at all with Pierce's work), but the introduction of Master Farmer is a welcome one (he's sort of the Han Solo of Provost's mages), and Beka remains -- as always -- a heroine you're happy to root for. One note for readers who may not be familiar with Pierce's other work: This series serves as a distant prequel to the Alanna books, so you might want to check those out next if you haven't already.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the world the book takes place in. How does this compare to other stories set in Tortall? Does it feel as much like a fantasy as the other books? Why or why not?
What era in real human history do you think the book is most closely related to?
Do you consider Beka a role model? Why? Do you think you'd like her in real life?
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