starlady: Alanna, Daine and Kel: Tortall (inspiration)
Pierce, Tamora. Mastiff. New York: Random House, 2011.

I can still remember the day I first picked up, and bought, Alanna: The First Adventure, when I was nine, in Borders. There had been a distinct lack of girls with swords in books in my life up until that point, and Tamora Pierce's books will always hold a special place in my heart--not only because of all the great books she's written, showing a diverse palette of choices and lives available to girls and women, but also for the way in which she has continued to push herself as a writer, and has continued to be sensitive, and responsive, to questions of representation in her books. Her winning the 2013 Margaret A. Edwards Award from the ALA is very well-deserved.

Mastiff is the third and final book in the Beka Cooper trilogy, which is set 200 years before the Tortall that we see beginning in the Song of the Lioness books and which was, to be blunt about it, much more interesting. Beka Cooper is a young woman who enters the Provost's Guard of Tortall in the first book, and in the final story she faces her greatest challenge yet. The entire trilogy is framed very thinly by scenes with her famous descendant George Cooper, whom of course we know well.

I've really liked the Beka Cooper books--although Pierce's books have had some notable instances of fail (the Bazhir in the Lioness books; the Trickster duology and its white savior narrative), in these books she's pushed the bar both in terms of her own writing and in terms of what kinds of stories get told in YA books. (She's also pushed the page limits, but quite frankly I could read hundreds of pages of 200 years ago!Tortall being interesting, so YMMV on that.) I enjoyed Mastiff, and I enjoyed the ending. I don't think Beka has Ali's dubious flaw, namely being too competent, but Kel and Daine are still my favorites.

I read with interest this entry on [personal profile] swan_tower's LJ, in which the book's structural weaknesses are dissected in depth. I can see how Mastiff could have been a stronger book, structurally, but I don't know that every book needs to be a marvel of structural power. I'm also not sure that making the book stronger, structurally, would have enabled a realistic depiction of the central element of social change which is the emotional payoff of the whole trilogy--as it stands, it stretches the bounds of credulity, and stays inside them mostly because this is, in the end, a YA book. (Much more interesting, and credible, is the depiction of the slow shift in social mores that will, after Beka's time, end the age of lady knights for two centuries.) I also don't know that the frame-tale stuff with George is even necessary, except that this book is part of the larger Tortall universe, and the verse needs it, not the novel itself. But as part of the Tortall universe, this is a strong and interesting book, and if you liked Beka Cooper or Pierce's other books, I would wholeheartedly recommend it.
starlady: (through the trapdoor)
I've been reading a lot, as usual. I even dreamed of a Redwall book that doesn't exist yesterday morning--it was about Queen Mariel, who had left her realm in the Northlands after the death of King Dankin and the death of their only child. I have a very clear image of the cover painting in my mind even now. I always did like Mariel and Dankin. But then the book turned metatextual and there were a couple of pages in the front that were flattened-out tissue packages. Not Brian Jacques' usual forte.

Seven for a Secret )
The Queen in Winter )

I also cherry-picked some stories out of the anthology The Starry Rift, edited by Jonathan Strahan.
Bullet points )
I finished Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente ([personal profile] catvalente) and loved it. The city on the skin )
I'm not yet completely finished Tamora Pierce ([ profile] tammypierce)'s Bloodhound, but I'm far enough along that I'm going to venture my comments anyway: essentially, I think this may be Pierce's best book yet. In depth )


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