Friday, October 25, 2013

Review: "Bloodhound" by Tamora Pierce

(Bloodhound is the second book in a series. I reviewed Terrier, the first book , here.)


Beka Cooper has survived her training year in the Provost's Guard--but those who said the work would get easier with time were lying. Her ruthlessness in pursuit of justice has won her a number of enemies, both among the criminals of the Lower City and among her fellow Dogs.

Rejected by a string of partners, Cooper teams back up with her old mentor Goodwin. The pair leaves Corus for Port Caynn on a top-priority mission for the Provost himself--to track down the culprits behind a spate of counterfeit silver coins that are ruining Tortall.

They find Port Caynn in the grip of the underworld's Rogue, who isn't half so kindly disposed towards Cooper as the Rogue of Corus. Cooper and Goodwin are on their own in a city full of strangers while the lower classes turn to riot, with false money crashing the market and food running scarce in a bad season.

  4 out of 5 stars
(grump below the cut)
Dear reader, if you missed the note about the first book in the Beka Cooper series by Tamora Pierce, you should get on that. Or, really, you should read the actual book, because it's pretty great.

As the second book in a series, Bloodhound remains a solid story and fun to read, but few sequels measure up to the charm of the first look at a new world. The first half of the book meanders a bit before finding its plotline.

Cooper gets involved in different aspects of law enforcement than she does during her training in Terrier. My favorite place this plays out is the fleshing out of the cage Dogs. While the street Dogs like Cooper and her partners patrol the streets, track down criminals, drink, and fall asleep in a giant pile of grumpy friendship (I’m taking that last point on hearsay), cage Dogs guard the prisons and the "Rats" who have been collared for miscellaneous evildoing. Like the guards on the street, they take bribes—to give a prisoner special treatment, to let one escape, or to look the other way if someone wants a certain prisoner silenced.

And yes, they’re also the ones who question prisoners. And yes, by “question” the book does mean “torture.”

Torture is bad. Police corruption is bad. There is no debating that. Cooper detests cage Dogs, so the reader feels very comfortable with the equation that street Dogs = good and cage Dogs = bad.

At one point, the search for the counterfeiter brings Cooper into a questioning room. It’s an extremely unpleasant scene, but it also shakes up the simplified good/bad dichotomy.

For one, Cooper refers to her own training in "questioning," and recognizes the methods the cage Dogs present are using. Thus, even the “good” Dogs--whom reader likes and admires--are capable of torturing someone for information, because it’s a job skill. And they’ve had the questioning methods applied to them during training, so that they know their effects intimately. The reader learns that Cooper almost quit training to be a Provost’s Dog because of it...
[...] until my trainers said I actually had to volunteer to be a cage Dog. They wouldn’t force us to question folk.
That's good for Cooper. It's also bad for Tortall, because it means that every cage Dog is a person who willingly accepts the task of torturing suspects. So clearly cage Dogs = bad.


Once again, though, Pierce plays with the reader's assumptions. One of the two cage Dogs Cooper meets is the jaded sort we expect-- he thinks they’re all guilty liars wasting his time, pushes “questioning” too far just to get an answer whether or not it’s true, etc.. The other shakes up the equation. She turns out to be a friend and former comrade of Goodwin’s, a guard who stopped working out on the streets when she had her children.
“It’s safer being a cage Dog now that I’m a ma,” she said. “I don’t get my head cracked so often.”
 All of a sudden, it makes sense why guards volunteer for this duty. It isn't because there are that many sadists in the Dogs, who can’t wait to drown a confession out of a perp. Some of them are taking on that ugly task because it’s preferable to getting stabbed while breaking up a barroom brawl, or being left for dead in the harbor filth for having investigated the wrong crime.

A continued gold star for this series' setting, then. In more general news, Pierce gets a little more heavy-handed with social issues in this book. She makes a point of introducing queer characters in this book (though I could leave open the possibility that the first book had queer characters... who were never acknowledged.) On the other hand, she makes one-half of those characters sexually promiscuous performers, which is not a great trope to perpetuate.

Additionally, after one character explicitly describes themselves as trans*, Pierce continues to refer to them using the wrong pronoun. (I’m using “them” to avoid identifying the character before readers get to that point in the book. I’m aware it’s not the best pronoun to use.)

She also introduces misogyny! on the parts of authority figures, which is EXACTLY what the series was missing! < /sarcasm > It was so pleasant to read (in Terrier) a story which women’s roles and women’s choices weren’t being constantly questioned and restricted by the narrative. I had hopes that maybe an author could finally envision a whole world that didn’t automatically include misogyny as part of the scenery. Apparently not. Oh, the book’s roles and depictions of women are nevertheless absolutely great, but I was sad to see that even that had to be put in theoretical jeopardy by authority.

A social aspect that I did like was how Pierce depicts the romantic relationships in Cooper's life. (Here there be spoilers, dear reader.)

I liked that Cooper can acknowledge how attractive Rosto is to her, but object to his manner of flirting with her. Her attraction to him, and their clear caring for each other, don't overcome her objections as to how he treats her as a potential romantic partner. That's pretty much unprecedented in my YA literature.

I really liked that, when her flirting with Dale starts to lead to more, Cooper actively chooses that Things Will Happen rather than waiting for him to ~sweep her away~. She is an active participant and decision-maker regarding her own sex life. Moreover (and this is so, so important for young readers to see modeled), Cooper takes steps herself to ensure that the Things That Will Happen will not lead to baby-makin’.

Admitted personal bias time: I am not a proponent of underage sexual activity. At that age, most people aren’t making wise decisions. That said--since young adults have emotions and hormones and bodies and free will--I’d rather see them enabled to make WISER decisions, and wiser depictions of sex in media is a huge part of that. Cooper, who takes an active role in regards to her desires and to the question of contraception, is a fantastic model for teen girls. I thought that was awesome.

Again I recommend these books for the wrong reasons!

I still get all giddy about how big and true (and grody) the world is. Pierce, writer of plucky heroines, goes above and beyond in making Cooper not simply brave, but also faulty and human. The characters that surround her are fully-fleshed and engaging. Bloodhound isn't as superb as its predecessor, but it is nevertheless a fun, fast-paced, well-written intrigue/adventure which I would happily recommend to all fantasy lovers.

No comments:

Post a Comment