In the fourth part of Mastiff, this just gets more and more intense, and I’VE JUST STARTED IT. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Mastiff.
Trigger Warning: For talk of gore and classism.
This is going to be a nasty fight, isn’t it? It’s clear now that at the core of this plot is a group of entitled nobles who are threatened by taxes. And while I will talk AT LENGTH later on about why this is so infuriating, I do want to start off by saying how beautifully refreshing it is that Tamora Pierce gets this, and it’s explicitly discussed in the text. Not subtext, not a hint, but Beka outright saying that this is bullshit.
Let’s get into this.
The Hunt Continues
Y’all, I felt tired by the end of this long, exhausting hunt, and I think it’s all brilliantly written. Pierce conveys the physical toll that this hunt takes on Beka and Tunstall, particularly Tunstall, who has to deal with the difficulties he faces from his broken legs. Along the way, there are plenty of neat character moments and scenes, and it’s not all just Achoo tracking a scent. We’ve got Pierce calling out Tunstall for his ridiculous opinions on embroidery, which she later brings up just to point out that Tunstall is a hypocrite when it comes to gender roles. NOT SO CRITICAL OF WOMANLY JOBS NOW, ARE YOU, TUNSTALL?
For the most part, though, this section does track the long process by which Achoo follows the scent of the prince. Shockingly, the boy’s scent doesn’t end at the beach where the ships were sunk, and Beka and Tunstall soon find out that the someone met the prince and his captors near a field with horses and rode out towards the river. MEANING THE PRINCE IS STILL ALIVE. MEANING THAT THIS ENTIRE DEBACLE JUST GOT A BILLION TIMES MORE COMPLICATED. Because it was bad enough that I thought someone had sunk the ships just to kill the prince, but nowâ€¦ why? WHY DID THEY DO THAT? I don’t understand!
Oh my gods.
The hole the enemy’s mage had blown through it was about five horses wide. Seemingly the kidnappers didn’t worry about anyone catching them by then.
While there are plenty of clues later that suggest this had to be an inside job, one that was a form of revenge against King Roger for his new tax policies, this felt like one gigantic sign of that. It’s arrogant. It’s not just that the kidnappers weren’t worried about being caught; it felt like them demonstrating that they knew they could get away with this. If we’re accepting the theory that entitled nobles and mages are behind this, then here’s your physical manifestation of that sort of egotistical, self-important attitude. It’s over-the-top because they now they can do it. Which means someone had to have helped them! Someone had to have given them this sort of confidence!
The Ware River
Lord, this book, y’all. Here’s the thing. There’s no avoiding the sheer awfulness of what’s happened here. You can’t. Tamora Pierce does not allow us to cast our gaze elsewhere, and while this isn’t anywhere near as violent or gory as some of the earlier passages, it’s still extremely gross. But I think that’s going to be an important aspect of this story! I think the brutality in which people of King Roger’s palace were executed speaks to the same arrogance I just brought up. Kidnapping the prince was not enough for these people; they had to slaughter countless people in exceedingly visceral ways. They went overboard, and it had to be on purpose. This isn’t something you accidentally do, you know? You don’t accidentally slaughter folks and melt them alive. You don’t! So I think they’re trying to send King Roger a message, all in the hopes that he’ll back off his plan to tax the rich in order to rebuild the kingdom’s stores.
More on that in a bit. It’s at the river that Beka, Achoo, and Tunstall meet a dead end, and Pierce ramps up their frustration. Achoo is eager to follow the scent, but can’t understand that the prince most likely crossed the river or is being sent up or down it. They check for any docked boats or any witnesses upriver before returning to Tunstall, who is dealing with his own problem: extremely tight muscles in his legs from all the walking. Y’all, this is seriously one of my favorite scenes in the Tortall series ever. There is a beautiful tenderness to Beka’s massage of Tunstall’s legs, and it’s written without any romantic tones to it. I like it so much because it shows us how close the two of them are, that Tunstall can trust Beka to help him out like this. Plus, Beka knows that Tunstall doesn’t want to be given “soft work” if he’s honest with the healers about the state of his legs, so it’s like this is her way of helping him stay out in the field. I JUST LOVE THIS A LOT.
Reunion with Gershom
With Master Farmer’s help (OH MY GOD FINGERPRINTS I LOVE THIS DETAIL SO MUCH), Gershom meets up with Tunstall and Beka, and the four of them all convene to share what information they have. I should note that they do so as quietly as possible because there’s still the possibility that the guards themselves were part of this conspiracy. Beka and Tunstall reveal what they’ve discovered and I’m overwhelmed:
Lord Gershom reached over and patted me on the shoulder. “Cooper, you, Tunstall, and Achoo have done far more than I could have hoped for. We might have lost him entirely, were it not for you three.”
I justâ€¦ I get so messed up by displays of affection like this??? It’s probably because I crave them so much myself, but WHATEVER. FULL OF FEELINGS, I SWEAR.
Master Farmer’s MagicÂ
I think it’s fitting that if we are indeed getting a book about a bunch of nobles and mages throwing a temper tantrum over taxes, then Master Farmer is the perfect mage to be a part of the hunt. We find out here that Farmer’s main teacher was one Master Cassine. Essentially, Farmer couldn’t afford the more expensive schools, which all come with the sort of notoriety that makes mages largely insufferable. Well, to Tunstall, that is, ha! But that’s an important little character detail! Tunstall hates haughty and snooty mages, and he is perpetually shocked that Master Farmer isn’t anything like the other mages. I think that’s because Master Farmer did not have the educational experience of most of his colleagues. His magic is very practical at times, and it’s also all over the place. He learned what he could, much of which was taught to him by Master Cossine. He also pursued magic that he was good at. And it’s made him unlike any mage we’ve ever come across!
This theme is not hidden in the background. The conversation that Beka overhears after she relieves herself is emblematic of the kind of thinking of upper class people who are used to the privileges that come with their life. They’re revolted by the “commoners” who are brought to find the prince, and it’s because they don’t know how “treat royalty.” I don’t understand the “original” reference at the moment, but I definitely got the fact these men wanted the good ol’ days, which has long been one of my least favorite things in the universe. Tell ’em, Beka:
Everyone knew His Majesty was at odds with his nobles as well as his mages. I found it very hard to feel sorry for the nobles or the wealthy great mages. The king had nearabout beggared the treasury to feed the poor over the winter of 247. What was unreasonable about asking those that had the coin to build the kingdom up again? They made enough riches off of us.
Today wasn’t the first treasonous bit of speaking I’d heard, either. Every time someone had a complaint about the realm, they whined about the “good old days,” when King Roger sported high and low and his younger brother Baird ruled the Privy Council and the Council of Nobles. Prince Baird was happy to oblige the nobility and tax the merchant class and the poor folk. I know what I think of their precious “good old days.” The number of them living in the Lower City had doubled as farmers lost their land to taxes and came to the cities for work that wasn’t there.
Oh, I love every bit of this. It’s not surprising that the nobility would celebrate the government when it leaves them alone and allows their privilege and wealth to flourish, only to turn on them when they’re asked to contribute. Really, what’s at work here is their desire to be the exception. They want to benefit from what the monarchy can provide for them, but they want to do so without paying for it. They want to exploit the lower classes for labor and profit and then damn them into a perpetual cycle that keeps them there. It’s not an accident! It’s not like the nobles innocently stumbled into this system and just happened to uphold it. If anything, this whole massacre is their reaction to the possible diminishing of their privilege. They’re not even losing their privilege, and they react by slaughtering people and kidnapping a prince.
And as if we needed yet another sign of how infuriating this is, Beka is woken from a nap by thunder. Created by a mage, who pulled a storm from the north to the Ware River, ostensibly to wash away any scent left behind of the prince. It made me so angry because it was an act to avoid responsibility. That’s how cowardly these people are. They will fight to the death over their right to live untaxed and without regulation, but now they choose to cover their tracks and refuse to accept the consequences of what they’ve done? They know they’re breaking the law and doing something immoral. Funny time to suddenly give up your moral right, isn’t it? But this sort of hypocrisy is part of the game they play. They want everything whenever they want, and if they don’t get it, they’ll use their privilege and power to take it away from others.
This is going to be a nasty fight.
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