In the eleventh part of Mastiff, the team makes their way across the marsh with the help of a guide, his lizard, and his dogs, only to discover more things slowing up their hunt. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Mastiff.
Trigger Warning: For mention of dead animals
Oh, this is just so fun to read, y’all. SO MUCH FUN. The hunters make a lot more progress than I expected, so we’ve got a lot to cover.
I would read a book where Ormer is the main character. I WOULD, FOR REAL. While he’s strange, Pierce avoids characterizing him as some sort of mystical person of color and instead makes him fiercely grounded in reality. From his first interaction with the group to his departure at the end of Beka’s summarized entry, he is suspicious for all the right reasons. His first words demonstrate this:
“I don’t like Dogs callin’ on me, nor do I care for swords in the fist,” a man called from the shadows under the trees. “Tell the mage I’ll put an arrow through any of yez gullet if he twitches.”
Here’s the thing: Ormer doesn’t know these people. His reaction did not seem jarring or unjustified to me. He’s speaking from experience.
“Is it business you’re after?” Ormer wanted to know. “Most ways outsiders in uniforms and armor come here to order us about. It’s not business we’re offered. It’s slavery.”
So he has absolutely no reason not to suspect that this group will treat him poorly. This is a common theme throughout Mastiff: the people at the top of the social food chain regularly mistreat those below them. Again, from our perspective, we might think that Ormer is unfairly judging our heroes, but he’s not at all. The same goes for the people back at the village. After years of mistreatment by people passing through, he’s just trying to protect himself.
Thankfully, Beka’s group knows that they need to pay this man and treat him with respect, since he’s their only way across the marsh. AND WHAT A JOURNEY THIS IS. Along with Summerleaf, Ormer’s swamp lizard, and the hounds, Ormer guides everyone across the swamp. I honestly thought that Pierce would spend a great deal of time on this whole sequence, but I actually find it very humorous that the experience was so miserable for Beka that Beka collapsed the entire thing into one single journey entry. Actually, that’s not the funniest thing here:
Pounce did far worse. After an hour’s bumpy ride and a near slide from a reedy island into the water, he had vanished into the Divine Realms with a promise to join us at our destination.
HAHAHAH, WHAT A LITTLE SHIT. Will there be a day when I’m not amused by Pounce? Nope.
After their successful (if frustrating) journey across the marsh, the hunt continued! I was worried about any number of things stopping them again, but I hoped that because of their delayed trip through the marsh, there was less of a chance that they’d come upon something awful. AAHAHAHAHAHA OH GOD. I mean, it’s not like Pierce doesn’t constantly remind of us of a million possible threats to their hunt. What if there are hidden archers waiting to take the group out? What if the next bridge they come to is burnt out? Even when Beka spots the Banas, I began to quietly wonder if there was yet another setback waiting for her.
THERE IS NOTHING AWFUL HERE. Lord, it was so relieving that they were able to cross the river without a single complication, and Achoo was back on the scent before the ferry even docked. I was aware that the mages were now plenty of days ahead of Beka, but at least they could begin to make up some of that lead. Right? HAHAHA. Hahahah.
Okay, I’m only poking fun at how unprepared I was for the horror that was just pages away from me at this point. Truthfully, it only delays them for maybe a half hour, but it FUCKED ME UP. I suppose I just never thought that the mages would set traps, despite that I should have expected to do something as nasty and brutal as they do here. But there was a hint prior to this that I actually picked up on, but only applied it to the past:
Though with the marsh bridge gone, these people would lose a chunk of their trade coin. This summer was going to be lean, thanks to our prey. It was another reason to bring them down.
These mages have consistently demonstrated an intense hared of all things “lesser” than them, and much of what they’ve done to harm the royalty has also harmed people who are, in theory, completely unconnected from their greater plot. I don’t know that this is always an intentional thing, but, like I said before, I think these mages are also more than pleased to ruin the lives of anyone below them. They destroyed that bridge across the marsh; they murdered servants and guards; and if it weren’t for Master Farmer’s work, how many people in the Queensgrace lands would have died from the fire trap? Plenty of animals mistakenly walked into it, and it was only a matter of time before a human did.
Anyway, I suspected something was wrong when Beka smelled “cooked meat,” but GOOD GODS, THIS WAS SO MUCH WORSE THAN I COULD HAVE ANTICIPATED. And that’s interesting to me because I already know these mages are horrific, and yet they still keep coming up with ways to be worse than ever before. So, Beka discovers that the mages veered off the Queensgrace road to cut through weeds, but they set up a deadly trap that burns anything that passes through it.
That includes Master Farmer, who, in a unreal display of courage in his own ability, PUTS HIS HAND THROUGH IT. Granted, he does protect himself before he does so, but he kind of forgets to tell everyone else this, so BEKA FREAKS OUT. I noticed that in her big moment of rage, there’s a subtle admission that she cares about Master Farmer and knows he is vital to them completing their mission. IT’S REALLY ADORABLE because Beka cares. SHE CARES SO MUCH. Ah, Beka, you’re my favorite.
And because this is Master Farmer, he surprises us again with an explosive bit of magic that takes out the trap and covers him and Beka in soot. I have no idea how to explain what he does here because I don’t even remotely understand what that thread was or what it did. BUT IT WAS COOL, RIGHT? This time, Farmer is the one to have an angry outburst, which I also found super adorable, and it’s because Master Farmer is probably the best thing in this whole unfair book. Gods, I am so thankful that his character is real and I get to read more of Beka’s adventures with him. BLESS.
The original text contains use of the words “mad,” “crazy,” and “idiot.”
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