Mark Reads ‘Mastiff’: Part 2

In the second part of Mastiff, you’re kidding me. THIS IS HOW THIS BOOK STARTS? If you’re intrigued, then it’s time for Mark to read Mastiff.

Trigger Warning: For discussion of death, gore, and kidnapping

Jesus christ, WHAT HAS THIS BOOK BECOME ALREADY. If I thought the last section was a bold way to start a book, then the reveal of the main conflict here is just out of this world. I feel like Tamora Pierce usually gives time for her narratives to develop, but she’s abandoned that here. Not only are we thrust into a world where Beka is burying her fiancé, but she’s whisked off to Blue Harbor, where the Summer Palace is located. AND EVERYTHING IS SO HORRIBLE AND SCARY AND I JUST STARTED THIS BOOK. I can’t get over this! I’m barely 40 pages into Mastiff, and it’s chaos.

God, it’s so much fun to read.

The Journey

I know I’m biased in favor of well-executed suspense, but I can’t help it. The entertainment it provides is my EVERYTHING. So it was a blast to see how Pierce set up the journey to the summer palace in order to fill us full of dread:

All this secrecy was starting to give me the itch. Never had I been on a Hunt when we kept our names from those who conveyed us. Never had I been on a Hunt when we had no notion of the manner of crime at issue, the Dog Districts involved, or the local nobles. Lord Gershom had mentioned the king, but surely we were here as a favor to someone the king wished to help. The king had better Hunters than the likes of us.

It’s with this in mind that we view the events that follow. The secrecy is absurdly thorough, and Beka constantly questions why it is that Gershom chose herself, Tunstall, and Master Farmer (a Dog mage) for a job that clearly should draw the best help in realm. I commented on video that I was aware of Beka’s tendency to undersell herself. I didn’t interpret this as her insulting herself, Tunstall, or Farmer, but more that she was admitting to the reality of the situation. There were folks better qualified and with more experience than the three of them. Hell, Achoo is a fantastic scent hound, everyone knows that, but why did Gershom pick these people to come along?

The trip itself is just unbearable. There’s almost no talking, and once everyone is packed, saddled, or strapped in, they just leave the harbor. No warnings, no information, no direction. They just go! It was clear they were expected and that the men of the Kings’ Own were only they to escort them to the summer palace. (Well, let me make sure to say that I didn’t figure out where they were going until it was spelled out in the narrative.) But why weren’t they briefed along the way? Wouldn’t that have been more productive? Why all the silence? Why all the secrecy?

I admit I was very thankful that someone like Beka was the one through which we experienced the trip through the grounds of the palace. I came from poverty and I’ve spent most of my life in the lower class, so I do the same thing when I visit anything nice. I instantly feel like I don’t belong, and I feel repulsed by displays of garish wealth. YOU KEEP HATING ALL OF THIS, BEKA. I’ve got your back.

The Summer Palace

Upon entering the grounds of the palace where Tortall’s royalty stay for the summer, there are too many horrible omens and signs of what awaits them all. There’s no Palace Guard whatsover. Not a single one. Only the men of the King’s Own are guarding the place, which struck Beka as incredibly bizarre. It was a custom that was always followed, so why not now? All the the group comes across is more and more of the King’s Own. Who are covered in ash AND TREMBLING:

I did not like the look of these guards at all. Even the darkest-skinned of them was ashen. Some of them had sweat marks on their pretty tunics. Some of them had hands that shook as they held their weapons.

WHAT THE FUCK. WHAT IS GOING ON. This is meant to unsettle us immediately, since we know that the King’s Own are made up of some of the toughest folks imaginable. What would upset them? It didn’t help that Pounce then warns them to “Brace yourselves,” and DUDE. THAT’S SO CRUEL. WHAT ARE YOU DOING? WHY DID YOU SAY THIS?

The Summer Palace appeared through the trees on my left, a long building with another open corridor on this side. There were balconies and turrets that must have been pretty white stone once. Now soot streaks marred everything. Part of this wing had collapsed into the cellars. Some of the remains stood open to the air. Others sported a single shutter, or half-burned one. Tatters of burned draperies and furniture had been thrust from the windows to lie haphazard below.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! HOW? WHY? My first thought was that this was a dragon, but the Immortals’ War was centuries off. This was too early for that. But what could have done this?

Between the palace and our road were gardens. Mayhap they’d been pretty, too, but not now. Bodies lay among the flowers. Here were the missing Palace Guards, as well as men of the King’s Own, and the Black God knew how many servants, all burned, sword hacked, or stabbed.

It’s just so horrific to even think about. The entire Palace Guards slaughtered. So many people murdered that Beka couldn’t even count them. And for what? Why would someone massacre so many people? And what were Gershom’s group supposed to do about this? Find the killers???

“And it is not this for which you are called.”

!!!!!! WHAT THE FUCK, WHAT COULD POSSIBLY BE WORSE THAN THIS. What could be worse than mass slaughter and would require a secretive trip to Blue Harbor overnight???? We don’t find out because everything is agony and terror. After seeing such a hellish thing, I think it’s fair that Tunstall and Beka question Master Farmer about his work because… shit, look what they’re up against! That whole scene happens before the big reveal from Queen Jessamine, too. Why would Gershom invite a kennel mage to something of this magnitude? Granted, I admit that Beka and Tunstall are pretty harsh with him, but I can’t imagine how upsetting it would be to come upon that kind of mayhem.

Queen Jessamine is the one who finally puts it all into context when she seeks out the Hunters that Gershom brought. The entire scene is relentlessly uncomfortable and sad for a number of reasons. It’s surreal for Beka because this is the Queen before her, and she’s talking about scenthounds and Hunts and petting Pounce, and it’s all just a little weird. The lack of formality threw me off! Which is why it was so shocking that Jessamine very casually revealed what had really happened:

“It’s true, then? You are the ones who must find my son?”

Oh, shit. In an instant, they all understand why this has been such a serious affair. Not that an attack on the Summer Palace was child’s play! But this affects the future of Tortall in a very scary way. Clearly, this was orchestrated so that there would be fewer people at the Summer Palace than usual. While Roger and Jessamine were away at a party thrown by the governor of Blue Harbor, the palace was attacked. But why was the attack so drastically violent? Why scorch everything and kill nearly everyone there? Why not just get Gareth and leave? I don’t understand that. I don’t understand why this raid was so intensely cruel, either. It’s brutal. Is it a personal attack? Is it something meant to upset the succession of rule? I HAVE NOTHING TO GO ON HERE. And I have no idea where Beka and Achoo are supposed to start.

This is the beginning of this book, y’all. What the HELL.

Video 1

Video 2

Video 3

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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