During middle school lunch, I would escape to the library, sit on the floor with my back against the wall, and disappear into a book. Probably the librarian knew of my habits, but in my mind it was a super-secret hiding place—a book-cave, concealed by towering shelves (which in reality are fairly short. Isn’t that always the way?). My favorite aisle contained authors M-T, meaning I sat next to Tamora Pierce. I picked up Wild Magic (because it had horses on the cover, duh) and I was instantly hooked.
You can’t talk about Tamora Pierce books without talking about Alanna. If you ask any girl of our generation if they have read Alanna, you’ll get a resounding yes and a gush of praise. Alanna is one of my favorite literary heroines. I too want to be skilled with a sword, wield purple fire, and have a cat who can talk. But it’s not Alanna the Lioness or Alanna the sorceress that I most want to be. It’s the girl who was so determined to follow her passion she disguised herself as a boy for years to become a knight. A knight who, when outed as a woman and ostracized, held her head high and continued marching on. A woman who followed her dreams against harsh odds and succeeded with flying colors.
After the Lioness Quartet and the Immortals series, Tamora Pierce’s books never hit me in quite the same way. I didn’t like Kel from The Protector of the Small series. Whenever Alanna would show up as her mentor, I pretty much wanted to follow Alanna out of Kel’s story to see what she was up to instead. With Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen, which follow Alanna’s daughter, the entire time I felt Aly was just a shadow of her parents. The story was set not in Tortall but neighboring Carthak, and in both books I wanted Aly to return home and hang out with her parents instead, international politics be damned.
Then Terrier came out with Beka Cooper, George Cooper’s ancestor, heading the new series. It felt like a gimmick. And it was written in diary format? Pah, diaries suck. Immediate snub.
That was in 2006. Last month I picked up a hardback of Terrier for cheap, forced myself through the introductory diary entries (the only part not from Beka’s point of view and written in fairly atrocious dialect) and was completely won over. My faith in the Tortall books has been restored.
Like all good Pierce heroines, Beka is strong and resilient with an inner vulnerability that lets the reader relate. In this case, Beka has crippling shyness and is fighting to prove herself as a Puppy, or trainee, in the Provost’s Guard (aka the Provost’s Dogs). There’s unrest in the Lower City: children are kidnapped and workers disappear, many of them ending up dead. But Beka’s on the case, trainee or not. She goes on adventures, kicks ass, uses unusual magical abilities, impresses her trainers, combats sexism, and generally saves the day and it was SO LOVELY. Reading Terrier felt like coming home.
Pierce also has the wonderful ability of creating fleshed-out, realistic, and sympathetic friends for her heroines, and Terrier is no exception. Beka has a group of friends that contains other puppies but also thieves from across the legal divide, which I suspect will provide some interesting twists and split loyalties in future books. The potential love interest is fairly dishy too (though he is still being rather mysterious. More books needed!).
I will fully and freely admit that I want to like this book—I want to go back to Tortall. This means I can easily overlooked some foibles, such as the fairly dreadful fictional slang (“Puppy,” really? I guess it became cute…eventually) and the appearance of another talking cat. In fact, he’s the same cat from the Alanna series —he does have purple eyes after all. Can’t have a Pierce heroine without a trusty magical cat, now can we?
Ok, ok, I’ll confess: I was happy to see him.
Frankly, I’m glad it took me this long to get around to reading Terrier. I now have a brand new, unread Pierce series to delve into! Blood Hound, here I come.