Saturday, December 23, 2006

Beka Cooper: Terrier - Tamora Pierce

Tamora Pierce's Beka Cooper: Terrier is subtitled "A Legend of Tortall" and it goes back to an earlier period of Tortall's history, 200 years before Alanna: The First Adventure.

Beka (Rebakah) Cooper is 16, and her world is not one of knights, the nobility and palaces, but of thieves, beggars, shopkeepers, drinking dens, and the Court of the Rogue. She was born in the Lower City, in the worst of Corus' slums and it is where she feels most at home, although she has spent the eight years before the book opens living in the household of the Lord Provost.

Beka is a new member of the Provost's Guard - a rookie "cop", in a time when cops make their names based on their personality, their willingness to break heads, their attitude toward money, and love of the law. Beka intends to make her mark in this hard world, but it won't be easy for her because Beka is painfully shy, and at the outset has very few friends. These are problems she must deal with, but fortunately she meets people who can see through her shyness to see her as a smart, stubborn young woman. She already has one very good friend to advise her, who lives in her rooms on Nipcopper Close. He's a coal-black cat with purple eyes (suggesting he's a Divine being in disguise) and his name is Pounce.

Beka tells her story via the journal that she starts to keep on her very first day as a Puppy (in her time, the Guards (cops) are called Dogs and the trainee Guards are known as Puppies). Beka introduces us to the Dogs who are training her, teaching her what they know of the hard life of a Lower City Dog: Tunstall is easygoing and funny, although he goes a little nuts during a fight. Goodwin, on the other hand, is a small and tough hardcase who didn't want Beka to train with them - it's nothing personal, she tells Beka, it's just that they've never had a Puppy and they don't want one now, although they have no choice). The three of them are pulled into some very nasty crimes in the Lower City, largely as a result of Beka's own personal informants, the ghosts who ride on the city's pigeons, and the dust-spinners - literally small localised whirlwinds, each with their own personality, which not only pick up dust and street rubbish, but also carry the voices they hear... Beka finds herself attempting to solve two criminal rackets that are taking place in the Lower City - for "the Lower City is [hers], its people are [hers]. If she find them that's doing all this kidnapping and murdering, they'd best pray for mercy, because once [she] gets [her] teeth in 'em, [she] will never let them go." This last quote (from the back of the book) explains, in part, just how Beka earns her nickname "Terrier"; I was reminded strongly by this (in particular) of one of my Terry Pratchett characters, Sam Vimes, who coincidentally is also a cop, in the Discworld's Ankh-Morpork...

This was a very good book - and I'm no longer a big fan of police procedurals (as they're called in America), and I shall definitely look for the sequels Bloodhound and Elkhound in due course. Beka Cooper: Terrier is also available from There's an excerpt available at Tamora Pierce's website.

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