In the twenty-sixth and penultimate part of Mastiff, the group tries to get home. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Mastiff.
Trigger Warning: For talk of child abuse, body horror, and death.
There’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll be upset about this forever.
There’s no sense of justice or closure over what happens here at all. I feel raw thinking about how Tunstall’s story has come to a close, and there’s nothing here that’s meant to comfort me or help me understand him or help me move on. Like his betrayal, this is a jarring, painful thing to experience. It is, frankly, a mess, but it’s a mess that Tunstall caused. From the moment he chose to betray his job and his friends and his country, this was guaranteed to end terribly, regardless of whether he was able to pull this off.
As the group wakes from a much-needed rest, they’re greeted by the sounds of battle. The assault on Halleburn has begun, which is somewhat comforting. Farmer uses Dolsa’s scrying mirror to figure out which noble houses have turned on the traitors, and that’s undeniably a good thing. It’s the first sign of any sort of reinforcements arriving to help these Dogs and lady knights. And that’s a huge part of why the scenes in Halleburn were so upsetting: these characters were cut off from the rest of the world for a long time. I was always comforted by Farmer’s creative method of trapping the three traitorous mages in the small village outside the castle because how could you not be? It’s hilarious!
I was glad the other noble house were being sacked, and I was really glad that Nomalla, upon learning what had been done to Prince Gareth while he was in custody, reacted like this:
Tears overflowed Nomalla’s eyes. “I didn’t know,” she said, and knelt before the prince. “I pledge my blood and service to you in repayment, Your Highness. Whatever you command of me, if you demand my life, I will give it to repay any small measure of the hurt my family has done to you.”
Nomallya has been disagreeable about Sabine’s view of all this, so I was pleased that when face with the undeniable and horrific abuse that Gareth suffered, she did not try to dismiss his experience. She then pledged herself to Gareth. Good. Good. It’s a start.
But these small victories remain small in light of two developments that follow this. The first is… goddamn it. I don’t imagine that any writer would have had an easy time writing this scene because it’s so complicated and wrought with emotion. Above all, Beka’s confrontation with Tunstall does little to make us feel better, and that’s one aspect of this that I do appreciate. There isn’t a happy ending here for this character, and despite that Tunstall tries to get Beka to understand, what he did is unforgivable. He is not painted as a tortured man who was forced into an impossible situation and deserves our sympathy. Maybe our pity, I could see that. No, Tunstall had choices, and chose the terrible ones.
Unfortunately, he won’t be facing the ramifications of those choices in our realm.
In the tree shadows Tunstall looked to be asleep. “Tunstall?” I called softly. “Wake up.” He did not stir. “Tunstall?” I walked around the back of the tree to make certain his bonds were still tight, then hunkered down at his side. When I touched him, his head did not move. I tried to lift his arm – his wrists were bound in front of him – but I could not. I could not stir his legs, either. He was fully locked in death.
It’s sad and infuriating and unfair and a mess and how does this book keep finding new ways to upset me? I thought I’d already experienced the most surreal instance of Beka speaking to the dead through the pigeons, but nope. Tamora Pierce saved the worst one for last.
“I only wanted to be worthy of her,” he told me. “By the time I got to understand that meant betraying you, I was in too deep.”
Nothing about this is a good excuse in any known universe, and I am so pleased that Beka later calls him out on all this. He’s lying to himself, and he’s doing so openly to her. So, once she nails him on that, he figures it’s a good time to blame everyone else!
“Seeing where we sat in that dining hall while she was up above us, knowing they wanted her to marry the prince, all that made me agree when they gave me their offer. I was tired of forever being placed apart from her.”
ON A HUNT. THEY WERE ON A HUNT AND SHE HAD TO WIN THESE PEOPLE OVER AND IT WAS PART OF HER JOB AHHHHHHH SHUT UP TUNSTALL SHUT UP.
“And you settled the bill, or started me along the path to settling it, Cooper. The chill of the night and the weakness from my hurts, that finished it, but you put me on the path to your god.”
No. Nope. No, this isn’t okay, and I am just so full of sadness and rage.
“Tell her I love her and beg her forgiveness, Cooper. And I love you and Goodwin. The pair of you have always been my true sisters.”
He’s not lying, and I believe every word he says here. And that’s why this betrayal will always hurt me, because Tunstall is not supposed to be the one to do something like this. He sacrificed his best friends and his colleagues by doing this. He sacrificed his lover, who would have married him if he’d just asked. He sacrificed Daeggan and Linnet and every dead person and animal and Dog and ACHOO WAS NEARLY KILLED BECAUSE OF THIS, and he was complicit in all of this brutality.
I’m so angry with Tunstall, and it’s always going to hurt thinking about him.
The other development that tempered the small victories was the predicament of their geographical location:
“The plot is not ended,” she announced grimly as we all watched the battle below. “We may be safer, our enemies may be in disarray, but there are still miles between us and the Summer Palace, and there will be soldiers to pass.”
yeah, THEY’RE STILL NOT HOME. Too many terrible things could still happen along the way. And even before they get to traveling back to the Summer Palace, I was ruined by a single sentence.
“I think it’s a good idea,” I said, my mind on the body in the woods.
It breaks my heart that, unintentionally or not, Beka has already developed a disconnect to Tunstall. He’s now a “body in the woods.” No, nope, this book has crushed me under the weight of its unending tragedies, I swear. Or perhaps it has crushed me solely due to the scene where Pounce calls upon the animals of the woods (pine martens are my #1 choice of animal if I ever got a daemon) to bury Tunstall and Daeggan. I can’t choose, it’s all so sad.
There is some joy and hope that comes after this, though, and I will not lie: it was a welcome relief. It was satisfying to know that Orielle, Ironwood, and Dolsa were suffering in that village, trapped in Farmer’s creative prison mounds of shit. (I’m so thrilled I get to type that.) I was happy that Farmer and Gareth were bonding as much as they were. I was ecstatic that Halleburn was surrendered, though I wished Thanen had not died because I wanted him to face what he’d done.
But y’all, when I saw the entry for July 1 and it said “Corus” as the location, I was overwhelmed. It meant that they must have made it home. But what did that entail? Was Gareth with them at Mistress Trout’s? What had transpired between then?
I was not at all ready for the reunion between mother and son happen here, but gods, y’all, it’s such an incredible scene. Of course the queen refused to stay home, despite that her health was terrible and the spell cast on Gareth was killing both her and her husband. And Pierce doesn’t shy away from displaying the physical toll this has taken on her body, so I can only imagine that it’s worse for the king. Of course this mother, so desperate to get her son back, would not accept remaining behind and waiting. After all that kid went through, Beka and her friends got him back. It’s easy for me to see this as the most difficult, harrowing Hunt for Beka, so it’s incredibly meaningful to me that she gets to see the ramifications of what she’s done. She gets to see the joy and appreciation on the queen’s face.
AND THEN CASSINE. OH MY GOD. I WASN’T READY, I WASN’T READY FOR HER SWEETNESS AND FOR HER BLESSING AND Y’ALL, THIS WAS THE SHORTEST SECTION OF MASTIFF AND I FEEL LIKE THE MOST HAPPENED IN IT. This particular part was a roller coaster ride, both bleak and uplifting, tragic and hopeful. And somehow, there are twenty-four pages left in my very last Tortall book. I’m gonna recover for a moment, and then press on. Whew, I cannot believe this is coming to an end.
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