In the twenty-second part of Terrier, my relief is temporary because I know it’s going to get worse than this. I KNOW IT. If this is intriguing, then it’s time for Mark to read Terrier.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of death/dead bodies
This has truly been my favorite storytelling of Tamora Pierce’s.
I think I’ll always turn to Daine Sarrasri in terms of lead characters when asked who my favorite was out of all the Tortall books. Actually, the whole world of The Immortals was probably my favorite, too, but I have an obsession with animals and continue to entertain the notion that one day, I’ll be able to talk to them. I think some of Pierce’s sharpest writing was in the final two Protector of the Small novels, and I’ve had to remind myself that she’s certainly been gritty and uncomfortable before.
But Terrier doesn’t feel like anything else she’s written to me. Part of that comes from the fact that she’s got a dual narrative wrapped around Beka’s growth as a Puppy, so we’ve got a book that’s part coming-of-age, part solider-in-training, and part noir mystery. And in terms of structure, this book feels like an intentional slow burn. Pierce builds the world through the vibrant and immense cast of characters, revealing all the idiosyncrasies of the people of the Lower City so that we understand the fabric of morality that they live under. Amidst this, she gradually sows the seeds of the two mysteries plaguing the Dogs and the poor of Corus, so much so that, like I clearly exhibit in these videos, the reader is bursting at the goddamn seams just to see how this is resolved. AND IT’S NOT ENTIRELY RESOLVED. AT ALL. THERE’S STILL SO MUCH TO ADDRESS AND THERE’S NOT EVEN 40 PAGES LEFT IN THIS BOOK.
The tension in this part of the book is unreal, and I am not ashamed by how much it affected me. I couldn’t even speak properly at times. NO SHAME. Right from the beginning, the story is littered with omens and signs of what’s to come, and ALL OF THEM ARE THE PIGEONS. It’s so haunting because we know what those pigeons represent to Beka and to the story as a whole. They’re watching over the events that transpire because it’s the closest these people have ever come to releasing them from their hell.
I am absolutely here for depictions of Goodwin in her home with her carpenter husband. Goodwin in robes. Goodwin grinding coffee beans angrily and swearing at them. GOODWIN YELLING AT WORK AND HER BABE HUSBAND COMING TO COMFORT HER AND WHERE IS ALL OF THIS. (It’s in the wonderful world of fanfiction, isn’t it? Of course. There better be fics of Goodwin being all domestic and cute and wearing robes because I WANT TO SEE IT.)
That aside, I mentioned in the video below that there’s a lot that makes this turn of the story feel so huge. But one of the main reasons why I was so nervous was the idea of all these characters gathered together in order to plan how’d they’d finally find the diggers. It’s a sign of how the lines have utterly blurred between rusher and Dog, and we know precisely why that’s happened. This isn’t about the force of the law being the force of goodness; it’s about people who band together to save those who have been forgotten. These people care about the fate of the diggers, and they want to prevent this from ever happening again.
And then there is a lot of waiting around. AND IT’S REALLY UNCOMFORTABLE. I could only read and wonder if this was going to be a success. Could they really track these guards? Could Berryman remove their death marks so that they could gather evidence against whomever hired them? COULD THEY SAVE THE LIVES OF THE DIGGERS WHO WOULD MOST CERTAINLY DIE THAT NIGHT IF THEY DIDN’T FIND THEM? Is Berryman going to reveal their hiding place because of his sneezing? WHY DON’T I REMEMBER THAT INVISIBILITY IS A THING THAT MAGES CAN DO? Seriously, I can’t recall if Numair or anyone else ever said that was possible.
Even after Berryman identifies all the guards and the four groups follow them about town, I was still worried. What if they were all getting off shifts? What if all the Dogs and rushers were too spread out? WHAT IF THERE WERE SPELLS PROTECTING EVERYTHING? Will I ever survive this? But these people planned this incredibly well. These people are ridiculously prepared, too. The man that Goodwin, Aniki, Berryman, and Pounce follow leads them to an abandoned house on the outskirts, and once he did that secret knock thingy (I KNOW WORDS, I SWEAR I DO), I knew this had to be it. But what next?
Wait. LOTS AND LOTS OF IT. It’s unbearable because it was obvious they’d found the right place, but there were still too many variables at hand. Berryman could have missed a spell. The guards could have killed the diggers immediately. It could have been a trap! Right? What if someone knew that the Dogs were on to them?
Thankfully, more and more of the group arrives and hides – quite easily, I might add – around the property. Crookshank chose a forgotten part of town in order to use these forgotten people to mine for more opals, and the whole thing just left me feeling so unnerved. But then, the pigeons arrive, and Beka finds out that the seventeen holding the diggers’ ghosts KEPT MORE MURDERED CHILDREN GHOSTS AWAY FROM BEKA. It’s not until late that this is given full context, but it was a sign from Pierce that shit was about to go down.
And when it does, !!!!!!!!! Seconds after Vrinday Kayu arrives, this book erupts into complete chaos. My biggest worry at this point was that the noise that they made would clue the guards in on what was occurring, and then they’d murder the diggers anyway. But I admit that I was also so breathless and freaked out by the raid because I knew Pierce wasn’t afraid to kill off characters. And while Verene’s demise is part of a different story, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. What if something horrible happened again to someone I cared about?
Thankfully, for the time being, that’s not the case. The rescue effort was downright unbearable to read, especially when one of the diggers (who I believe was actually Jack Ashmiller) nearly kills one of his guards in a moment of rage. Deep down, I imagine Beka empathized with him so much that she hated having to tell him she’d arrest him. Still, the raid ends up being a success; every single digger is saved, Berryman removes all the death marks, and then…
Lord. I nearly figured this out earlier when Beka noticed the other boarded up buildings in the neighborhood, but the full weight of the pigeons’ presence hit me like a brick. They were waiting for Beka and her Dogs to find their bodies. It’s one of the most endlessly bleak and sad moments of Pierce’s that I’ve read, though there’s some comfort in knowing that Beka’s work allowed these souls to finally move on. But Beka still describes the entire ordeal with this sort detached horror to her tone, and I’m not going to forget it. Those bodies are more evidence of what Crookshank and his people did to the poor. The worst off. They preyed on people desperate for help to survive, and it’s just so resolutely awful.
There’s a poetic power, then, to the image of all the Dogs (Beka included) ambling into a bathhouse and cleansing themselves together. The experience of finding those seventeen bodies, baking in the summer heat in those basements, will probably cling to their souls for years to come. I don’t thank any of them will ever be able to shake it. But after spending hours amidst so much evil and despair, then cleanse and feed themselves. They attempt to rejuvenate themselves. And then they keep on going.
It’s striking. Some of them go back to work. Beka accompanies Jack on their way back to her place so she can return him to his children, and along they way, she discovers Fulk’s dead body. Her day isn’t even over. It’s important, then, that this scene features Beka’s conversation with Jack about becoming a Dog. It’s a perfect example of what the job entails. You can be surrounded by the ugliest of what humanity has to offer, and after a bath and a meal, you have to do it all over again.
The original text contains use of the words “idiot” and “mad.”
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