In the thirteenth chapter of Mastiff, Beka and Achoo make the worst discovery yet. YET. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Mastiff.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of slavery and child abuse.
WELL, ALL OF THIS HAPPENED.
I was actually kind of close to figuring this out, but I really don’t want to give myself too much credit here. Tamora Pierce decides to drop a MASSIVE plot twist in the middle of this book that changes how I have to look at the story, and she does so during THE TENSEST SHIT EVER. This got worse, and that falls in line with a common theme of my reviews. HOW DOES SHE KEEP MAKING THIS NIGHTMARE WORSE THAN IT WAS BEFORE? How???
This is how she does it.
“There was a slave train passing through as Prince Baird and the men from Aspen Vale came, if it please you, my lady. They had a lot of green folk. The dealers thought it would be a good thing if they stayed and loaned us some of their stock. To give the slaves a bit of training in a noble house, you see, get them used to the stairs and all.”
Initially, because the woman said “some” of the stock, I just assumed it was impossible that Gareth would be with them, but NO. NOPE. Gareth is there. RIGHT NOW. HE’S IN THE CASTLE OR ON THE GROUND RIGHT FUCKING NOW. In an instant, the urgency and suspense of this book is ramped up to completely unfair levels. Because this book isn’t halfway over and THEY ARE CLOSER TO THEIR PRINCE THAN EVER BEFORE. Smartly, Beka, Tunstall, and Sabine all quietly communicate with one another so that Beka can slip out of the armory room to go see if Achoo can pick up Gareth’s scent. Once she does, the threat of being caught is hanging over the remainder of this section. So I will not apologize for spending nearly a half hour just flipping the fuck out. WHAT IF THEY FOUND HER??? What was she supposed to say? What if her search tips off the slavers that the hunting party has found Gareth’s location?
It’s one of the most unbearable sequences in this trilogy, and IT NEVER ENDS. From that one line until the end of this section, it’s sixteen pages of Beka waiting for the other shoe to drop. When Achoo was sniffing the piles of wood and the hearth, I thought someone would spot them. But there’s a value in acting like you belong and blending in with the activity in the castle, and Beka does her best to take advantage of it. It’s brilliant, honestly, and it’s the main reason Achoo and Beka get away with as much as they do.
They head into the kitchens next, and MITHROS SAVE ME, it’s even more suspenseful than the previous scene. Achoo finds Gareth’s scent on the spit, and Beka figures out that Gareth was clearly asked to turn it for a while. Using the safety of the shadows and her kindness, Beka ends up holding a revealing conversation with Linnet Beck, a six-year-old slave who is currently manning the spit. (I know it is uncomfortable, but I’m glad that Pierce is not ambiguous with how old these slaves are. Again, we’re not allowed to shy away from acknowledging the more fucked up aspects of this because it’s out there in the open. These slavers have children as young as four working for them.)
I wasn’t ready. I WASN’T READY. Not only is Beka an absolute doll to this girl, sewing her rags together so that it’s easier for her to do her job, she learns more than I could have ever hoped about what’s going on at this castle. And I like that Beka doesn’t treat Linnet as if she is a source of information and nothing more. While sewing Linnet’s rags together, Linnet tells Beka about No-Skin, the slave that isn’t allowed to be beat or hit in any way that breaks his skin. It’s clearly Gareth, and it gets so much worse after this:
“One o’ th’ gixies punched his face so’s she cut his cheek, and there! The Viper, the mage, she did the gixie just like that! And her ma started screamin’ ‘cos her babe’d just died and now they’d killed her little one, and snap! Dead ma into the dirt with the babe and the gixie. The captain that ran things told the Viper she’d wasted a bearing slave, and the Viper said she had her orders and he had his.”
WELL, I WAS WRONG. Those poor souls that Achoo found were murdered by one of the mages, who we now know is named the Viper. Clearly, the slavers and the mages are treating Gareth differently than the other slaves, but only up to a point. And christ, the only person truly looking out for him? Six-year-old Linnet, bless her heart. A SIX-YEAR-OLD HAS A BETTER SENSE OF RIGHT AND WRONG THAN GROWN ADULTS. I wish Beka could save her and pull her out of this world. At the very least, Beka tells her that if she ever needs help, Linnet can find her through the closest Dog she can find. And MY HEART BREAKS because Beka has to leave this gem of a girl behind.
AND HEY, WHO WAS SURPRISED THAT THIS GOT WORSE? Actually, it was me. I seriously thought that this was the only thing Pierce would give us because… well, shit. It’s HUGE. We know one of the mage’s nicknames, we know for a fact Gareth is here, and it’s a massive lead. So I wasn’t expecting anything to come of Achoo’s search, especially given that Gareth’s scent was probably all over the castle. And yet, just a page after Beka leaves Linnet, Achoo finds a single locked door and whines outside of it, notifying Beka that this is it. This is where Gareth’s scent was coming from.
I seriously haven’t been less ready in this goddamn book.*
As soon as I looked around that large chamber I knew I was in dreadful trouble. A tall rack supported a suit of armor. A shield leaned against it, showing the bright silver sword-in-crown with the upended crescent. Our lad, Prince Gareth, had been in his uncle’s room.
That… that’s a coincidence, right? RIGHT?
My hound traced the scent to the chairs by the hearth, to the tub that stood in the main bedchamber, and back into the main room. As she did, I stood by the door, keeping it open a crack, listening for approaching steps and thinking. They had brought Gareth here, almost certainly to Prince Baird. This was the bad news, the worst, and it lay on me like a weight. On feast days we had all seen the young prince with his big uncle. King Roger was wiry and lean, his younger brother of the same height, but heavier with muscle and good living. Prince Baird would raise his laughing nephew high in the air and the crowds would cheer them both.
It’s not. IT’S NOT AT ALL. Oh my god, PRINCE BAIRD IS INVOLVED IN THE KIDNAPPING AND TORMENT OF HIS OWN NEPHEW. NO OH MY GOD, THIS REALLY IS SO MUCH WORSE THAN I THOUGHT. This is so he can replace his brother, isn’t it??? I’M SO FUCKED UP, I AM A MESS RIGHT NOW.
No, I wasn’t, because Pounce shows up to warn Beka that Prince Baird and a group of nobles are on their way into the castle, and this turns into a complete disaster. Without Tunstall to vouch for her, Beka is just a random Dog wandering about the castle, and if she runs into Prince Baird, it’s all over. They’ll know that the Dogs are on their tail. Thankfully (BLESS YOU FOREVER POUNCE), they make it to Tunstall, but that doesn’t mean the tension is at all relieved, because then Beka has to keep quiet about the EARTH-SHATTERING reveal she just discovered and she has to act like she was just walking Achoo and she has to act all Dog-like and good-natured and IT’S UNBEARABLE. MAKE IT STOP PLEASE.
I will not allow the final scene to lull me into a false sense of security. I will not. That being said, Beka makes a couple new acquaintances on her way to find Lady Sabine: Lewyth and Snowball, a noble woman and her relentlessly cute miniature dog. She’s nice! She clearly treats animals well! She respects Beka and Achoo! AND I WILL REMAIN SUSPICIOUS OF EVERY HUMAN IN THIS CASTLE UNTIL I FIND OUT WHOSE SIDE THEY ARE ON.
What has this book become WHAT HAVE Y’ALL DONE TO ME.
* Yet. I will not kid myself. It’s going to get worse.
Note about a mistake in this review, spoilers for part 15: V pbzcyrgryl zvffrq gur snpg gung Yvaarg fnvq gung n pneg yrsg jvgu fynirf n qnl orsber jvgu Tnergu nobneq. JUBBCF.
The videos contain use of the word “mad” and “idiot.”
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