In the twenty-fifth part of Mastiff, there will never come a day when I am not upset about this. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Mastiff.
Trigger Warning: For child murder
To give you a sense of how upsetting this was to read, it’s now been sixteen hours since I read this section of Mastiff. Oh, I had plenty of time to write this review after I finished recording. I couldn’t do it. I knew that I was so furious that everything I typed would be a jumbled, irate mess, and I did want to analyze and discuss the importance of this development.
Except it’s sixteen hours later, and my heart is racing as I start reading the entry for June 27, and I see Tunstall’s name, and I’m furious all over again.
I do want to state that this anger I have is directed at a character, not the writing, and all my Tweets the day I read this were not meant as criticism of the novel. It’s not like this came out of nowhere. While I’m sure others are way more qualified than I to point out all the foreshadowing, I do recall at least two instances that hinted that Tunstall was the traitor. (My gods, BEKA SAW HIM TALKING TO THE NOBLES AT QUEENSGRACE AND THEN OPENLY DISMISSED THE POSSIBILITY THAT HE WAS BETRAYING THEM AND THAT WAS PROBABLY THE ACTUAL MOMENT HE’D DECIDED TO SWITCH ALLEGIANCE. HELP ME.) And once I thought about the reasons Tunstall named for betraying his friends and his lover and the Dogs and the Crown… well, okay. I didn’t understand it in the sense that I’m like, “Oh, that was a good decision! You’re so reasonable, Tunstall.” It’s a jarring, scary thing, one that feels like it is so completely out of character, but I don’t know that it is.
So. This book. Goddamn it.
The traitor among us must have left signs of our escape.
Great. This is the SECOND PAGE of the section, and it hangs over everything that follows until the big confrontation between Beka and Tunstall. We know something is wrong, despite that we don’t want it, and it makes this unbearable. It’s not like their escape was going to be a pleasant journey all by itself, but once you add the suspicion of a traitor? Does Tamora Pierce think she can play with my heart like this? (Of course she does.)
Beka’s reunion with Achoo? Perfection. Achoo freaking the fuck out over finding Gareth? The cutest, most heart-wrenching thing Achoo has done yet. Achoo constantly licking off the dirt on Daeggan? Well, now that breaks my heart because of that other thing. The group creating a makeshift litter to help carry Daeggan and Gareth? Look, there are just too many good things that happen before the very worst thing.
Soon, I thought. The traitor would have to move soon.
I assumed, then, that when the three mages confronted Farmer just a few minutes later that this was it. We’d find out who betrayed them all. My initial thought was that it made no sense for it to be Farmer because… what was he doing fighting the noble mages? Why create such a long and ridiculous act? But the problem with that line of thinking is that it could apply to literally everyone here. Someone had to have pulled off a long con, one that was absurd and ambitious, in order to have gotten as far as they did. Was it Sabine and Nomalla? Tunstall? Farmer? WAS MY THEORY THAT IT WAS NONE OF THEM ACTUALLY CORRECT?
I wish. Sigh.
I think that Beka’s instinct is at the heart of the turn of events here. It’s in her upsetting conversation with Gareth before Tunstall returns, since her gut tells her that there’s no way one little boy will be able to stop the slave trade. Beka’s not a cynical person, but she accepts certain realities in her world. And honestly, given that she grew up in poverty, I can personally understand why that is. But Beka is an observant person, and this trilogy is a document of her attention to detail. She can read a situation remarkably well, whether it’s personal or political. So when Tunstall arrives on his horse, she instantly notices that Daeggan is gone. She notices that Tunstall has no mud on his hands anymore. She notices that Tunstall refers to Gareth openly, instead of using code or doing so ambiguously. And her gut tells her – correctly – that something is deeply, deeply wrong, and what’s so fucked up about this is that never has she wanted her own instinct to be incorrect in her whole life. Her instinct is telling her that all the signs point to Matthias Tunstall as the traitor.
The only way – the only way – I am going to feel even a shred bit better than I do about this twist is to address his horrific reasoning. Because it’s too upsetting to even think about him and Beka fighting, or him taunting Beka in the fight, or his willingness to kill someone who has literally saved his life time and time again and LOOK, I’M ALREADY GETTING UPSET AGAIN.
“I don’t want to kill you, Beka. You’re like my daughter,” he said quietly.
I hate so much that this is the first thing he says to her. I hate it because it’s true that their relationship thusfar has been incredible. They are like family. To preface that with, “I don’t want to kill you” is so absurd that I wanted to reach through the pages and throw Tunstall off a cliff.
“But don’t you see? These people will win. I want to be on the winning side.”
You know what’s infuriating about this? Everything. Okay, aside from that? EVERYTHING. Beyond that? There was a clear moment in this narrative, one that the text called attention to many times, one which I picked up on, where you could easily say that this journey got so complicated and hellish and awful that it almost seemed inevitable that there would be a winning side, and it would be the nobles.
That moment is Queensgrace.
So fuck you, Tunstall, because I might begin to sympathize with your uncertainty or terror or your sense of futility BUT YOU ABSOLUTELY, 100% MADE IT WORSE. YOU BAILED OUT BEFORE IT EVEN GOT THAT HARD.
“I’m doing this for Sabine!”
Are you Walter White now? Do you believe your misguided sense of duty is actually going to make Sabine happy? Is this something you seriously thought about?
“I’ll say you were riding hard when your horse stumbled,” he told me. “It was up here, you went off the cliff. I couldn’t save you. Beka, don’t make me do this!”
Two things: Did Tunstall expect that anyone would believe this nonsense? On the most difficult Hunt of Beka’s life, her horse just slipped and fell off a cliff? Gershom would suspect that story in a half-second, you fool. You’re not even good at being an asshole!
I’m glad that Beka calls him out for that ridiculous, manipulative logic, because fuck anyone who claims that they’re being “made” to do something awful because they have no choice. You have so many choices available to you, Mattes! One of them, for instance, was NOT MURDERING DAEGGAN. OH MY GOD WHAT THE FUCK.
“She won’t know!” Tunstall wheezed. “No one will tell, lest I give out they were in a conspiracy to murder royal blood. Soon enough Baird will be king, I Lord Provost.”
GOD, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? HOW CAN YOU EVEN BELIEVE WHAT YOU’RE SAYING?
“They’ll say they were impressed by my work on the Hunt. I’ll tell her I saved money from old bribes and invested it in trade. I’ll be almost good enough for her. We can marry.”
He did think this out, albeit poorly, and he was already planning out a future from it. Which is just so revolting to me, y’all, because he was giving himself a good life by ending others. Well, a good life that RELIED ON SABINE MARRYING HIM.
“She says she don’t want to wed,” Tunstall replied. “She says it to spare my feelings. But she would do it if I had a place at court. If I had money.”
There is some nasty internalized shit going on here, since I think Tunstall is being as genuine as possible about this. Is he misjudging Sabine? Certainly, but how many people really do believe this sort of thing? Class is a vicious thing in Tortall, and the parallels to our own world are eerie and relevant. I know it because I had to deal with a partner who was extremely classist. I know what it’s like to fall in love with someone who really does believe that they need a partner who is rich. I don’t think Sabine cares about this, though, and I think that he’s mistaken her privilege for something else. Also: SHE WOULD NEVER WANT THIS.
And then it’s just page after page of brutality, and I cannot bring myself to quote any of this. It’s just… the worst. It’s the worst thing in any of these books, and I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to re-read this section again. I hate that Tunstall uses techniques that he taught Beka. I hate that he uses the knowledge of that to try and get the upper hand. I hate that he starts crying and begging to die because suddenly, the consequences of his actions is too much to face. I hate that Sabine reveals that she’s been listening and watching for the last few minutes and I hate that her voice is “raw and broken” I hate that this is now something I’m going to have to deal with in these last two sections. My only hope is that with the team reunited – OH GOD FARMER IS ALIVE – that they can all make it back home with Gareth because I cannot deal with another complication at this point. Tunstall’s going to be executed, isn’t he? Treason is punishable by death. Oh. OH GOD WHAT HAS THIS BOOK DONE TO ME.
The videos contain use of the word “mad.”
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