(5/5 ⭐️) “Pride is something only folk with money can afford.”
Beka Cooper was born in the slums of Tortall known as the “Cesspool”. She finds herself joining the city’s Provost’s Guard, more commonly known as the Provost’s “Dogs.” The story begins on her first day as a “Puppy,” where she’s assigned to two veteran Dogs, Goodwin and Tunstall, who have never had a Puppy and aren’t happy about it. She quickly proves her worth by showing true grit, and an astonishing ability to hear things others cannot. She’s got magic from her father’s side, and is able to hear the ghosts of the dead who ride on the backs of pigeons. In this way, she’s able to help solve crimes better than others, specifically, a string of killings that have been going on for years. This is because she can actually speak to the ones who have died. Beka soon gets caught up in one of the dirtiest crime string the city has ever seen, and it is her unique gifts that help the Provost’s force solve the case and bring those responsible to justice.
I want to start my review by saying that I feel as though I’ve been living under a rock. This is my first Tamora Pierce book, and it was such a fantastic read. I can’t wait to read some of her other Tortall books like Alanna. I love the way she crafted her female hero to be a strong fighter who still struggles. Perfect, yet, imperfect.
Beka Cooper may have bits of magic, like her abilities to hear ghosts and help the dead find peace—which also makes her a very good listener—but she has an obvious flaw. Shes a terrible public speaker, and she even struggles to form coherent sentences when speaking to her superiors, like her Dogs Goodwin and Tunstall. This felt so realistic, and it’s a struggle that many people have, making her that much more relatable. Not only that, she’s born poor in the poorest part of the city known as the “Cesspool”, and nearly the whole book takes place in this setting. Too often fantasy books follow kings and queens, nobles, and knights on quests. This gets down to the bottom, down to the nitty gritty, to the poor city folk and commoners who don’t speak proper English. I adored that aspect. It felt so real.
It was a bit challenging at first to adjust to the lingo. Using words like “Dogs” to describe the police seemed derogatory in today’s world, but here it was a term of respect. And “Puppies” was used to describe their trainees which I thought was cute. On top of that, there was a lot of lower city slang that was used. I also found the adjustment to diary-type writing something I had to get used to. The first couple of chapters I was a little wary, but it only took about fifteen pages before I found myself completely addicted. After that, I was able to appreciate and admire the unique world building with so many creative aspects. The way Pierce combined a Noir-like police force with nitty-gritty crime was spectacular. I loved the way the Dogs often fell into a gray area in terms of taking bribes, yet, doing what was needed to keep the streets safer. The balance was tricky, but Pierce nailed it.
Aside from Beka, there is a cast of other characters who I quickly grew to adore. Her talking cat “Pounce” for example, was the CUTEST thing ever, and that’s saying a lot since I’m not generally a cat person. I loved Pounce, and I appreciated that Pounce played a pretty big role throughout the book. The other characters like her partners Goodwin and Tunstall were so realistic, and I grew to admire them. Beka’ s fellow Puppy friends, and even the friends she makes outside the force: Rosto, Anaki, and Kora, were excellent additions to the book. Pierce did a wonderful job introducing a cast of characters without being overwhelming. Each time these characters gathered for breakfast, I felt like I was part of the family, sharing in their special moments. That made my heart so warm.
While I think this book is something every young woman should read, it’s great for all ages, and even men. The adventure aspects will appeal to anyone. I’m so happy that my sister recommended this read and got me the book as a gift. I may not have stumbled across it for years otherwise, and I’d have really missed out. I can’t wait to dive into the next two books in the series, as well as pick up some of the others. Highly recommended to all!