Mark Reads ‘Mastiff’: Part 19

In the nineteenth part of Mastiff, I don’t think I’ve ever been so close to a one-person riot than right now. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Mastiff

Trigger Warning: For discussion of death, blood, gore, violence, and the death of an animal.

I am certain that this book is just going to ruin everything, so in that sense, I suppose it’s the best book to complete my Tortall read. I’ve calmed down since reading this, but y’all. Y’ALL. I WAS SO FUCKED UP BY THIS SECTION. I mean, I still am??? Because this is a massive chunk of one nightmare after another, and this book is clearly not done with me. There are, generally speaking, a few major moments here, so I’ll split this review up to address each one.

The First Attack

I have no problem admitting that this is perhaps the most relentless part of Mastiff so far. (I must add “so far” because I have to be honest with myself.) But that’s the point. As Beka and the others get closer and closer to their quarry, their foes throw one disaster after another at them. More so than ever before, there’s a palpable sense of exhaustion in the prose, and now I’m worried about on top of everything else. The first attack here, perpetrated by a group of professional warriors, is tiring all by itself, you know? Woken from a deep sleep by Achoo’s barking and Farmer’s “bellow of rage,” Beka and her friends confront a seemingly endless string of warriors. Somehow, they were able to find the group and time their attack to hit them when they’d be most vulnerable.

That’s an issue for discussion later, and I’ll shriek about that for a bit, I promise. The fight is visceral and painful and scary, and it’s the ambiguous nature of it that messed me up so much. How many of them were there? Were there reinforcements hiding off in the forest? How could they do this? So as the four of them fought off the attacks, I thought I was bracing myself for the worst. But it wasn’t really possible to do that, was it?

That’s when I heard Achoo scream.

I still have a hard time reading what comes next because I don’t do this shit well. It’s not just the torment of a dog, though my eternal love of dogs plays a part in it. It’s the cruelty. It’s another person thinking that someone like Achoo (or Linnet, for that matter) is disposable. The attack on Achoo is related to the murder of Linnet because both of them are seen as mere collateral damage, unworthy of their own lives simply for getting in the way. That’s not to say that the life of a young slave girl is comparable to the life of a dog, and I don’t want this to have some unfortunate implication. My interest in talking about these two is to bring up the sheer cruelty of the people who are trying to overthrow the crown. Look how they treat other lives! I don’t think that Achoo getting stabbed was an accident, nor do I think you can simply say one of the warriors was trying to defend themselves. It’s been shown that these people know way more about Beka and the others than they should, and there’s no way they didn’t know there was a scent hound in the group. It was intentional. Take out the dog, slow up their progress.

I’ll get back to this idea of cruelty and disposability of other lives when we talk about the second attack. Similar to the death of Linnet, I find it easier to analyze the meaning of this than deal with the details, because then it’s too real and too painful. But even when I was reading this, I had to cope with the fact that I’d just assumed that Achoo was safe in the narrative. How could Tamora Pierce kill off the only actual dog in a trilogy about dogs? But then this line happened and FUCK THE WORLD, I DIDN’T WANT THIS.

When I came over to them, Farmer shook his head. “I think she still lives only to say goodbye,” he told me softly.

Yeah, fuck you, Mastiff. I WAS SO DONE. Upset wasn’t even a strong enough word, y’all. I was so furious and sad that I actually misinterpreted Pounce’s lines about the “rules.” When he told Beka to take away Achoo’s bandage, I thought it was him saying that Achoo had actually passed AND THE RAGE BUILT UP IN ME BECAUSE WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING, MASTIFF.

I’m so glad that’s not the case. I suppose you could read this twist as a deus ex machina of sorts, except I’d say it’s not because the text acknowledges that there’s going to be some sort of consequence for Pounce. It’s possible that nothing will happen or that the Goddess and Mithros will side with Pounce, but it’s also possible that this is what gets Pounce set back to his life as a constellation until he’s sent to help Alanna.

Lord.

The Second Attack

It was clear how ragged these people were after the first attack. They were quick to snap at one another, but exhaustion ultimately pushed that away. They had to sleep or the battle would have taken its toll on them in a way that could have been even worse than merely losing time. What if they fell asleep on their horses? Or were so tired and sore that their attention wasn’t on their task? TOO MANY THINGS COULD HAVE HAPPENED.

Unfortunately, because this book has no interest in making me feel okay ever, I had to read this fucking sentence:

We were an hour along and I wanted to stop to make a piss-mark of my own when I began to feel sommat was off.

No, oh gods, NO. CAN THEY HAVE A BREAK FOR LIKE TWENTY-FOUR HOURS. Are you kidding me?

The bandits

NO, COME ON, THIS ISN’T FAIR

The bandits ran at us from the woods on both sides of the road at the hill’s crest. They were armed with crossbows.

Do you think this is a game, Tamora Pierce? DO MY EMOTIONS MEAN NOTHING TO YOU??? The second attack – this time, by a group of bandits hired by the conspirators – is not quite as brutal as the first one, but it’s still relentlessly awful. The exhaustion from the previous fight hangs over them all, with no one suffering more than Farmer, who has to battle a mage that hasn’t been killing other mages in the recent past. Thankfully, Beka is clever enough to realize that there’s a way for her to take advantage of the focus on Farmer. She uses the camouflage of the forest and the thunder to sneak into the bandits’ camp, release and scatter their horses, and then wait for each bandit to return so she can ambush them. Hell, that ultimately works to help her take out the very mage assaulting Farmer!

And yet, as victorious as this all is, Pierce doesn’t let us forget that these characters have killed a lot of people in the last twelve hours, and you can tell it’s taken a toll on them. Obviously, the relentless nature of these two attacks doesn’t help, but I do appreciate that Pierce writes these characters with a respect towards their own tolerance levels. Just because they see death and gore often doesn’t mean they’re used to it, you know?

Betrayal

And amidst all of this, there are two horribly disturbing details revealed in the final part of this section. The first?

“Locals recruited by the enemy,” Tunstall said with disgust when he and I had inspected the lot. He held up a leather purse he’d found in the best-quality pack of them all. It was heavy with jingling metal, but when we poured it out, we found only tin coles.

As I mentioned before, the enemy’s cruelty is partly due to how they view life. Only those lives that serve their interest matter, and in this case? They had not a single ethical issue with sending these bandits to their deaths. I imagine that the mage had a spell that would force the surviving bandits to swallow their tongues upon the mage’s death. Christ, what a horrible death. And look, it’s not that I feel like we should excuse people paid to murder others, but Beka points out that these bandits were extremely poor. The enemy force purposely exploited that with a false promise of money, and these people were all destined to die anyway. They maybe would have been spared if they’d killed the whole group, but I imagine that they probably would’ve been murdered once they discovered they were cheated out of payment. It was a lose-lose situation the whole time.

The second bit of betrayal… goddamn it, I don’t want it to be true.

I found Whitknees, the mare who carried Farmer’s gear, and was reaching to undo the straps that secured the bag with his magic things when I saw sommat odd. Dangling from a buckle on top of the pack was a bronze medallion I recognized right off. I reached for it and ran my fingers over that raised design – four leaves, pointed inward. The last time I had opened this bag, it had not been there.

Great. GREAT. Beka openly considers the many explanations for this medallion. Was it really a way to notify the enemy which bag to steal? Was there magic attached to it that revealed their location at all times? At what point did someone slip it on to Farmer’s bag, and why would they put it in such an obvious space? Farmer was bound to find it. Of course, I’ve saved the worst question for last: Did someone in their group betray them, or was it one of the warriors the day before? Was it put there by the two men that Sabine and Beka found after everyone else?

WHY HAVE YOU PUT SUSPICION INTO MY HEAD, TAMORA PIERCE? I DON’T WANT THIS AT ALL. I LOVE THESE CHARACTERS SO MUCH. And when I think about the possibility that Farmer, Sabine, or Tunstall is responsible, I can’t find a single clue that would point in their direction. Which worries me because what if I’ve missed it?

Oh gods, no. I don’t want to think about this. I DON’T.

The videos contain use of the word “mad.”

Video 1

Video 2

Video 3

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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