A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Kids may learn some things about police work -- investigating crimes, etc.
Persistence, duty, loyalty, and hard work are all rewarded in the book's often-messy world of law enforcement and criminals. While corruption, betrayal, and cruelty are commonplace, the heart of the story -- Beka -- is unwavering in her focus and dedication to fulfilling her mission. Slavery is portrayed as a barbaric practice that cruelly uses its victims.
Positive Role Models
Beka is a strong, resourceful role model who never shies away from a challenge or responsibility, even when doing so would save her pain and/or heartbreak. Lady Sabine, a female knight who joins Beka's quest in this story, is another positive female character. But other characters' loyalties are less clear, and there's a huge betrayal that may not sit well with fans. Overall, Beka's world is diverse, with characters of many different ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, and sexualities.
Violence & Scariness
While strong violence has always been a part of Beka's story, this installment ups the ante even further, with nearly continual peril, danger, and conflict. Slaves, including young children, are brutally killed and abused; many dead bodies are discovered and examined (sometimes after being magically exhumed), with some details mentioned about their appearance and manner of death. There are several fights, both physical and magical (including injuries to main characters), and characters are tortured for information. A deadly fire claims many victims, a castle is destroyed, and some people and animals are killed when mages "melt" them into oozing puddles. Weapons include knives, batons, swords, magic, and more; Sabine's war horses can also be lethal.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Sex and sexuality are treated in a matter-of-fact way. Unmarried characters (including Beka and her fiance) sleep together, and there's a good amount of flirting and kissing as well. Things don't get too graphic, but Beka does sometimes get preoccupied by thinking about "swiving." A same-sex relationship isn't portrayed as a big deal -- nor is anyone else's sexuality.
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Lots of slang and swearing, but it's all in words that are specific to the world of the book (there's a glossary in the back for translation). None of it includes words that are considered "bad" to us, but they're clear stand-ins for curses we all know.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Beka rarely drinks (she prefers to keep her head clear), but many of her friends and colleagues do, generally in social situations. That said, there's less drinking in this book than in the others, mostly because Beka and her companions have little time for socializing.
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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.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.