Bloodhound is Tamora Pierce’s second book about Beka Cooper, an ancestress of a character in her other books set in the world (referred to from here out as “Tortall books,” as Tortall is the central country). Beka has finished her Puppy year—a year of training to become a member of the Provost’s Guard, the police force well endowed with canine slang—and is starting her first year as a full Dog. What starts out as a bad fall in the Lower City due to a poor grain harvest becomes worse when counterfeits start showing up in the money system—lots of counterfeits. The investigation sends Beka into Port Caynn, a harbor city full of extra-corrupt Dogs and extra-bold Rats.
Tamora Pierce has been a source of comfort-reading for me since I was twelve or so. I’m not sure how many times I’ve read some of her older books, but… more times than I’ve read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. A lot. None of her books are amazing and there is some variation in quality, but they are by and large good, enjoyable stories. They feature appealing, entirely non-wimpy characters, many of them women, and there’s a decent smattering of LGBT characters and characters of color. I freely admit that I have a soft spot in my heart for Tamora Pierce, so season this review with as many grains of salt as you feel necessary. (Mmmm. Tasty salt.)
The major flaw in the Beka Cooper books comes from the narrative style she chose: journal-style. Dogs are trained to have excellent memories, so after all her adventures Beka comes home and writes them out in her journal, in great detail. Mostly this works, and the level of detail seems appropriate to a police procedural. Yet, for some unfathomable reason, she feels it necessary to throw in gimmicks. Inkblots; paw-prints where her cat walks over the page; words misspelled, crossed-out, and rewritten when Beka is tired. They distract from the story far more than they enhance it.
Fortunately, the gimmicks are widely spread through a book that is otherwise one of her best. Beka’s an appealing character, forthright and prickly. The police work is appropriately gritty and the investigation accelerates in a compelling way as they get closer to the truth. The romance is believable and enjoyable but stays secondary to the main plot and is not viewed through rose-colored glasses.
It’s particularly interesting to look at the Beka Cooper books, especially this one, in comparison to her other Tortall books. It’s set several hundred years earlier, and the difference in gender dynamics is amazing. In the books set later, women are fighting to gain equal status and rights, and to be accepted as warriors. In these, women are just starting to lose equal status, rights, and acceptance as warriors. The pendulum swings. The books from the later time period are generally set in and around the palace and nobles; not every character is a noble, but many are, and the rest interact with nobles on a daily basis. These books are set in a thoroughly lower-class part of town, with nobles showing up only occasionally. Between the gender and class differences, the attitudes among the characters toward money, family, loyalty, noblesse oblige, sex, and marriage are simultaneously quite different from her other Tortall books and yet entirely consistent with them. It’s really cool! I love it when authors put thought and effort into their worlds.