Mark Reads ‘Mastiff’: Part 27

In the twenty-seventh and final part of Mastiff, Beka comes home. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to finish Mastiff.

Trigger Warning: For talk of slavery.

I have some things to say about this book, and then I have some things to say about this experience. Buckle in, y’all.


I understood it at the time I was reading it, and now I get it even more: these people did not want to rehash the awful betrayal of Tunstall over and over again, and so they simply hoped no one would ever ask about it again. I admit I expected Pierce to detail more of Goodwin’s reaction than she did, particularly since Goodwin is such a critical character in this trilogy. But after such a hellish experience, I sympathized with those who knew what Tunstall did. The whole thing was awful enough. Tunstall was dead, and his nearly-successful betrayal died with him.

The Trials

On the other hand, I’m grateful that Pierce didn’t go into that much detail about the trials, though I did wonder how many of the characters we met along the way were executed because of their role in the conspiracy. I was pleased with how Pierce wrote this part because what was most important to me was justice. I wanted to know if the full story (or as close to it) was being told, that all the proper blame was laid upon the guilty, that Farmer, Beka, Nomalla, and Sabine were part of the proceedings, and that Prince Gareth – who was at the center of this nightmare – got to have the time to tell his story.

He did, and it took three days to do so.

There’s little detail about the executions, too, which I’m fine with because… well, let me just quote Beka herself:

I was tired of death.

My concern was that the guilty were dead or brought to justice or, ideally, both, and that’s what happened here. Fuck ’em all, let the Black God sort them out.

The Proposal

Okay, Farmer does a lot of swoon-worthy things, and I genuinely love his dynamic with Beka. It works so well, so it’s a treat to read them interacting in practically every way. But Farmer braiding Beka’s hair expertly? WOW. WOW. His gifts to her? GOOD JOB. Asking her to move in with him to a bigger place? Where do I sign up?

“But, dear one, I don’t want to buy it for myself. I want to marry you and bring you there as my wife.” He kissed my palms. “If you’re worried that I have no work, Gershom has assigned me to the Waterfront District kennel. I’ll bring in a purse of my own.”

I think that of all the things I adore about Farmer, his consideration for others is what I find the most appealing. He wants to involve Beka in the decision. He wants to consider her concerns in the process. He wants to make sure she is not unduly burdened by the place, which is why he assures her he’ll still work. And he thinks of these things, he’s eager to talk of them, and he is consistently like this. CONSISTENTLY. Farmer, you’re the best.

With Pounce’s assistance, the two set a date for All Hallow, and that’s mostly because we finally find out that Pounce is to be punished by the gods, to be kept away from humans for a full century. AND I KNOW WHO HE SHOWS UP FOR NEXT OH MY GOD. I’ll get to that at length towards the end, so let’s just talk about how great it is that Farmer wants to take Beka’s name when they marry. Or how great Gershom’s reaction to the news is! OR THAT GERSHOM ARRANGED FOR BEKA’S BROTHERS AND SISTERS TO HAVE JOBS IN THE PALACE NO I’M NOT FULL OF TEARS.

But let’s just get to the thing.

The Ceremony

I figured that with the requirement that they dress up, Gershom was taking Farmer and Beka to some sort of meeting with the king and queen, that they’d be honored for their contributions to the realm. That assumption proved to be correct, but it didn’t matter. The truth is that these three – Sabine, Farmer, and Beka – did something immense for Tortall when they rescued Gareth despite the overwhelming odds that they would fail at their mission. There was always a political aspect to this Hunt because of what the Crown was fighting against. I wrote at-length about the class issues at hand for my review of the twenty-second part of Mastiff, so I won’t repeat myself here. But it is important to acknowledge that by helping the Crown, the Crown was able to fight against the control of the nobles.

And so, the Crown justly rewards these three for what they’ve done. It’s a brilliant spectacle, and it’s also a deeply satisfying way for Mastiff to end. Farmer, Sabine, and Beka never got involved because they were expecting a moment like this. For Farmer and Beka in particular, their work as Dogs is often unrewarded and thankless, and despite the importance of finding Gareth, this really didn’t make their Hunt all that much different than what they usually do. It was harder, obviously, and it involved way more travel, but chasing down Rats is part of the job.Still it was nice to see them earn their rewards! Sabine is given all of Queensgrace (renamed Princehold), including the lands and its grants, and is made Captain of the Household Guard to help protect children of the royal family. IT’S VERY FITTING.

Farmer, ever the humble mage, refused the position of Chancellor of Mages (!!!!!!!), so King Roger instead offers:

“Will you agree to help the royal mages screen those mages who come to work in Corus, with a proper gift from the treasury for your aid?”

No, not crying at all.

“Will you accept, with our thanks, this deed to lands, including the property you have recently purchased, for a city block in Corus? Property always helps a man in the world,” the king said, handing Farmer a document with seals on it. “Even more so when he is about to marry.”

I swear I saw the king wink at Farmer.

A full city block, y’all. A FULL CITY BLOCK.

But Beka Cooper… I am still emotionally overwhelmed by the incredible thing that Tamora Pierce gives me in the conclusion of Mastiff. Like Farmer, she’s not interested in the pomp of the court, and she’s not interested in ascended to some higher station and leave her work behind. But the Crown still wanted to reward her, so they did the brilliant thing of asking their son what Beka could possibly want. Shit, I wrote a whole thing about the impossibility Beka knew she faced when it came to the slave trade. THAT IS A THING I WROTE AND I COMMITTED TO IT AND I WAS CERTAIN THAT IT WAS REAL AND LOOK WHAT I HAVE DONE TO MYSELF.

There’s so much here that is so on-the-nose in terms of naming the problems with the trade aside from its brutality, though King Roger puts that first and foremost above everything:

“And when he told us what became of other slaves, of their lives, we found ourselves disgusted. This is not the way people should live, in want and fear. No one deserves to be thrown away as refuse. All are equal in the Black God’s eyes.”

Now, a bit of criticism: it is a demonstration of King Roger’s privilege that the man never knew how violent the slave trade was. STILL, I don’t want to diminish what he does decide to do here with the slave trade! It’s impressive that King Roger was able to see a common pattern in slavery: it is never used for something that negates its appalling aspects. He points out how enemies of the Crown used slavery and the slave trade to hide spies, to get supplies from one place to another, and then used slave money to pay for the conspiracy to overthrow the Tortallan government. He connects the economic power of the industry with violence and oppression, and it was an unreal thing to read. He got it. He also understood that wiping out slavery was not going to be easy, that it couldn’t be done overnight with no help or warning, and that it was in the best interest of the Crown to help Tortall ease out of slavery. Out of everything here, this part struck me as the most clever thing:

“Those families who have made income from the trade may negotiate with the Crown for loans depending on their plans for a new trade.”

It’s a subtle dig and condemnation on the Crown’s part, since these very people are going to feel humiliated by going to the government for loans. And good, they benefited off a horrific practice, I don’t feel bad for them. But this at least creates an avenue by which the Crown gives these people an option to move on without making a portion of Tortall bankrupt overnight. AND SERIOUSLY:

“Many evils take place under the canopy of slavery, including the banditry and piracy that plague our mountains and seas. This trade may go elsewhere. Let other monarchs deal with its mischief. I hope they can protect their children from it.”

I love that he doesn’t hide his contempt, and I love that he doesn’t sugarcoat this. He wants slavery gone in Tortall, the end.

And this is what Beka and the others helped bring about, and it’s what earns Beka her final nickname: Mastiff. As a Dog, Beka has consistently looked after those who needed help the most, and I’d say that this last development – the outlawing of slavery in Tortall – is truly her greatest victory.

What kind of hobbling could I do that is greater? It is better that I stop now, so my descendants will have only great things to read of me.

And the slaves will be free, all of them, by my grandchildren’s time. That is better even than any hobbling.

I can’t. She did it. Beka Cooper, you’re incredible, incredible beyond words. There’s a poeticism to me reading Mastiff as my final journey through Tortall, and part of that comes from the fact that I had no idea that this book would take me right back to where this whole thing started. I wasn’t surprised that George Cooper’s point of view returned at the end of the point. That’s how Terrier began, and getting to see him as he’s become the Rogue in Corus was necessary to close this narrative. His argument with his mother and the Great Goddess has a different context because we’ve just read Beka’s story. Plus, this line is SO GREAT:

My business was with the family shrine. All the way at the top was ancestress Rebekah and her black cat. I quickly replaced them with copies I’d had made, and tucked the real ones in my pocket. I meant to put them up where my honored Provost’s Guard ancestress could watch her descendant, the Rogue of all Tortall. It is a joke I’ve been laughing over for years and hope to laugh over for many more.

But as soon as George started talking about Alan of Trebond, I realized just how far I’d come in reading these books. It honestly feels like it’s been forever since I started these books, and I remember being blown away by the response to my review for that first chapter of Alanna. I had no clue these books were as popular or as beloved as they are, and now I have come to understand why. I’m gonna have a big party next week on the 7th, where I’ll read that one last story and we can treat it like a Q&A (and I’ll reveal what I’m reading after I finish the next big project), so I want to save any of my Tortall-encompassing thoughts until then. But I have been so overwhelmed with love and respect and silliness (AND PUPPIES, SO MANY PUPPIES) since I started reading these books. They’ve changed my life. They’ve made me want to be a better writer. And the best part is that while I am sad to leave this world, I am ABOUT TO ENTER ANOTHER ONE. The Circle of Magic readthrough will begin on October 9th, and THERE ARE SO MANY MORE BOOKS. MORE TAMORA PIERCE MORE.

I cannot thank y’all more for this. You’ve given me an incredible gift.

Video 1

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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