Monday, December 1, 2014

YA Review: Terrier

Hundreds of years before Alanna first drew her sword in Tamora Pierce's memorable debut, Alanna: The First Adventure, Tortall had a heroine named Beka Cooper - a fierce young woman who fights crime in a world of magic. This is the beginning of her story, her legend, and her legacy....

Pierce, Tamora (2006). [Genre: Fantasy]
Source: Own copy

Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books are the stand-outs of my later childhood. The Protector of the Small quartet is probably still the most influential piece of fiction in my life, and I reread her series often. Somehow though, I just never got around to her latest series set in Tortall – the Beka Cooper, or Provost’s Dog series, depending on who you ask. Now I’ve finally picked it up and it was like sinking into a warm bath.

I really enjoy Pierce’s writing. It’s straight-forward enough, but full of active imagery, and she doesn’t shy away from the knitty gritty details. She’s one of the few teen authors I’ve ever read who actively reference the need for sleep, toiletries etc. in everyday life. And Terrier, the first book in the Beka Cooper series, is Tortall through and through. Like in every other Tortall novel, Pierce also doesn’t shy away from diversity and Terrier contains strong, fully-fleshed and powerful female characters intermingling with people of colour (who are also major characters) and people of many different social classes, beliefs and backgrounds. Pierce excels at characterisation – even the most minor of characters is unique and interesting. Nobody is a cookie cutter in Pierce’s novels. This in itself makes the book a joy to read.

The story is grittier perhaps than its predecessors, following a trainee policewoman in the Lower City of the capital, Corus. Life is tough and the writing and story reflects it – there’s no lack of violence here. It’s a testament to Pierce’s writing that she can meld fantasy and hard-core detective fiction (which to some extent this story is) so seamlessly without it losing the YA quality, and although the violence is both harsh and graphic it continues to add to the story rather than being shocking for shocking’s sake. The detective element is extremely effectively done – like the best detective fiction, all the clues to both mysteries (Children being kidnapped, and mass-murder committed over some gems of unknown origin) are there from the beginning and the reader can race to pull the threads together as Beka does. It was also lovely to see some familiar characters and places pop-up. Although the book reads easily as a stand-alone and you certainly would not have to have read any of the previous Tortall novels to enjoy it, those who are familiar with Tamora Pierce will enjoy seeing how things loop back (this series is set approx. 300 years before The Song of the Lioness) – we find out the origin of the Dancing Dove for example, and a certain feline character seems extremely familiar. Like I said, like sinking into a warm comforting bath.

If I have one small quibble it is that the story didn’t feel old enough. For all that Terrier is set hundreds of years before the other Tortall novels, it could easily have been concurrent. There doesn’t seem to be any major societal differences and although there is definitely a language sub-set, it feels like it could easily be a regional dialect of the Lower City rather than a previous iteration. Change the name of the current King and slide in a few references to the right war and Terrier could be taking place at the same time of any of the other books. But this is an extremely minor quibble. Pierce remains a favourite and Terrier continues her run. I don’t know why I put this series off for so long and now find myself in the difficult position of wanting to both run and get the rest of the series straight away, or put it off for just as long so I can savour Pierce’s Tortall novels for just a little bit longer.

Overall? 5/5 stars (although I freely admit one star might be for sentimentality's sake). If you haven’t picked up Tamora Pierce yet. . . . WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?? And. . . . . what are you waiting for??

Terrier is the 11th book crossed off from my TBR Challenge list 2014    

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