Beka Cooper’s days as a Puppy for the Guards are over, but now that she is a full-fledged Dog she is still struggling to find her place. All of the partners she has been paired with are slackers or corrupt, and most quickly ask for Beka to be transferred to someone new. She is between partners when two unexpected events happen: she is suddenly put in charge of caring for the scenthound Achoo and she is paired with her training mentor Clary to be part of a clandestine mission to unearth counterfeiters in a neighboring city.
I am a huge fan of all of the Tortall books, so I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of this particular installment, set several hundred years before most of the other Tortallan series. I enjoyed it very much, though it is far from my favorite of Tamora Pierce’s novels. There were simply too many convenient plot devices: the friends they make during the riot just happen to be deeply involved with Port Cayne’s rogue, Beka just happens to obtain a scenthound that is so well-trained that no one blinks when she wants to take the dog everywhere yet no one seemed to care or notice when the dog was being abused, Beka’s cat friend Pounce just happens to be called away elsewhere.
Not having Pounce along for the ride forced Beka to grow in ways she might not otherwise have done, but it just seemed too obvious that that was why the author sent him away. I kept expecting that the issues Pounce was dealing with would be explained, or have an impact on the rest of the book, but no. He leaves at the beginning of the book, and comes back at the end of the book. I realize that he’s Above all the petty human stuff, but it still felt contrived.
I also didn’t entirely care for the abrupt ending of the romantic subplot, which I won’t give away for fear of spoilers.
All that being said, I want to emphasize that I really did enjoy the book, and fans of the first in the series should definitely get their hands on this second book about Beka. The pacing is excellent, as always with Ms. Pierce’s work. The characters are believable (with the possible exception of Pearl, whom the other characters even seemed to think was over the top.) I was especially interested to see not only gay characters who are accepted for who they are, but also a possibly transgender character who, despite allusions to previous conflict and keeping secrets, was accepted completely by the main character.