Mark Reads ‘Mastiff’: Part 18

In the eighteenth part of Mastiff, Beka and Farmer tend to a dangerous spell, and Sabine offers up kind words. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Mastiff.

Trigger Warning: For discussion of dead animals

I love this book. I love this book.

I think that it was actually quite risky of Pierce to stop this hunt at such a crucial juncture to spend as much time as she did with Farmer, giving us the story of how he lifted the spell on the river that the group tries to cross. This book is about a hunt that is extremely time sensitive, so why spend such a large chunk of the narrative describing a single act?

Because Farmer’s characterization matters. There’s a rich tapestry of characterization throughout the Doggy books (STILL CALLING THEM THAT, FIGHT ME), and I love that Pierce cares about what she’s created. There is necessary information here, both about Farmer and the Viper, that’s passed along to us, and it also influences the conversation that Beka overhears the next morning. So I’d argue that this had to happen, that it’s an integral part of the fabric of Mastiff.

Of course, my eternal love for Farmer plays a part in this. I can’t ignore that! When he and Beka find the horrific, deadly spell that the Viper has left behind, we then watch Farmer demonstrate what a powerful and clever mage he is. That doesn’t mean everyone here appreciates him equally. I don’t doubt that these characters are happy to have Farmer on their side, but Tunstall more than once expresses an irritation with Farmer’s ways. Granted, he’s biased against magic in general, and I don’t want to ignore that context. But he was so certain that letting a “local hedgewitch” deal with the Viper’s spell was their best option when it wasn’t.

I’ll touch more on this towards the end. I don’t think I need to comment on every single step of the spell that Farmer worked here, but goddamn, I appreciate the intensity and detail of it all. Layers of spells! WHAT WOULD NUMAIR SAY. And I love that so much of this is Beka learning about how magic works, for mages in general and specifically for Farmer. Farmer has no pretentiousness about what he does, and he’s eager to be transparent about what he’s doing as he’s doing it. It’s admirable that there’s no condescension in his voice, you know?

But I do want to talk about what Farmer does with the Viper because holy shit. I admit that I wasn’t quite sure what he’d done. My instinct was to guess that he’d put a shield around her? I knew the “white fire cocoon” must have meant something, so I had a theory that it would prevent her from casting any spells at all. Except that would have been a terrible thing because it’s too obvious. One of the great things about what Farmer does is that he behaves so innocently and ignorantly in front of everywhere. Well, he doesn’t do that with his fellow dogs as egregiously as with others, but even in that context? He’s definitely hiding his true power from everyone but Beka. This sort of subtlety allows him to go undetected! As ridiculous as it might seen, rusting the chains on the portcullises is a subtle thing, since it could ostensibly have happened naturally. All of this is done to keep suspicion away from him. Because how is the Viper going to figure out that Farmer did this to her?

“The next spell the Viper sends out, it will come back to her. The stronger the spell, the harder it will return. The little ones will go through – if she lights a candle, say, or makes herself look younger. But nothing bigger than that. The poison spells won’t kill her, now.” The smile on his lips and in his eyes went as cold and sharp as a sword. “I want the Crown to do that for her. But deadly spells will hurt her very badly.”


Nobody said anything as Farmer continued to eat. The only sound was the hiss of the fire. When he put down his empty bowl and drained his cup of tea, Tunstall said, “Remind me to stay on your good side.”

BECAUSE RIGHT??? Sabine has a similar reaction towards the end of this section when she realizes just how often Farmer’s doing magic when no one notices. This is all one of the two reasons I think this section is so important to the story: we understand Farmer better. We learn about him. He grows in the other characters’ eyes. But this is not the sole reason I loved this as much as I did.


Beka learns what a wonderful friend she has in Sabine in this section, and it is worth EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD to me. After overhearing an argument between Tunstall, Farmer, and Sabine about Beka being overworked, she’s reminded again of Holborn. Lord, even I had forgotten about him, and then Sabine is defending Beka’s desire to surround herself with friends and work, and everything is too real. It hurts all over again, though I did note that Beka said that she felt a little less guilty, which I think is a pretty significant development. Time and distance has been helping her heal. And now? Sabine is, too.

“I’m sorry he turned out that way. You need someone who respects you,” Sabine remarked. “Not a gloomy fellow, but one who understands why you care about people who’ve been thrown away.” She smiled at me. “That’s why I’m so honored to be on this Hunt with you. You care.”

No, I’m fine, perfectly fine, I’m okay.

I couldn’t bear the respect and the affection I felt for her just then –


The videos contain use of the word “mad” and “crackbrained.”

Video 1

Video 2

Mark Links Stuff

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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