Tamora Pierce begins a new Tortall trilogy introducing Beka Cooper, an amazing young woman who lived 200 years before Pierce's popular Alanna character. For the first time, Pierce employs first-person narration in a novel, bringing readers even closer to a character that they will love for her unusual talents and tough personality.
Beka Cooper is a rookie with the law-enforcing Provost's Guard, and she's been assigned to the Lower City. It's a tough beat that's about to get tougher, as Beka's limited ability to communicate with the dead clues her in to an underworld conspiracy. Someone close to Beka is using dark magic to profit from the Lower City's criminal enterprises--and the result is a crime wave the likes of which the Provost's Guard has never seen before.
First Look: ***** I've read a few Tamora Pierce books before this one. Some I liked, some were just okay. I hadn't read one I loved, but I hadn't read one I hated, either. So I decided to give this a go.
Setting: ***** Tamora Pierce knows her settings very well. Well enough that she can plop the reader into it and immerse them without huge info dump or long descriptions. I love it when an author can do that.
This setting was different from many fantasy settings, in that there was no traveling across grand mountains and endless wilderness. In fact, the only place really that we got to see was the city, and various spots within it. But it worked, because by the end of the book, I knew the city very well. I could picture it in my mind without any trouble. There was detail, but not enough to bog me down in all the text.
Characters: ***** I really liked the main character, Beka. She was tough, inquisitive, and caring. She had her flaws, too, and her crippling shyness. She felt, to me, like a very well-rounded character, and I enjoyed reading about her.
I liked some of the secondary characters, like Tunstall and Goodwin, especially. The others were just kind of meh. I knew who they were, but I didn't really care about them as much as I would've liked. I also felt like there were too many. For example, Beka had several friends that she hung out with for breakfast each morning. I think a few of these characters could have been combined into one, to make for easier reading and to make me care more about the side characters.
Plot: ***** The plot, in itself, interested me. I wanted to know what happened, wanted to know who the kidnapper was (okay, I figured it out pretty early. But until then I wanted to find out.). My problem was that it took a long, long time to get there. Beka spent a large amount of time trying to piece together the mystery, but I would've liked it more if some of that would've been skipped over. Do we really need to watch her talking to every single witness? Probably not, if you ask me. And also, there was huge focus on the main characters having breakfast together. It was nice, but a bit repetitive and unnecessary. It felt a little like this: "Hey guys, there's a murderer on the loose we should probably PIGEONS IT'S BREAKFAST TIME PIGEONS PIGEONS catch him."
Uniqueness: ***** It was different from many standard fantasy books. The plot wasn't huge or world-shattering, but it still maintained a level of intensity and excitement. I liked that.
Writing: ***** Tamora Pierce's writing isn't anything super exciting and fancy, but it definitely gets the job done. It does a decent job telling the story, and overall, that's about all you need, in a book.
Likes: Nothing specific that's worth noting.
Not-so-great: The things about the dust-spinners felt a little thrown-in-there. I didn't quite see where it came from or how it fit into the story. And what was up with the borders around every page? It annoyed me. There was so much wasted ink.
Total Score: I enjoyed this, overall. It's probably a bit more to the 3.5ish side, but I'll round up. I liked the main character, Beka, though some of the side characters just didn't do it for me. I liked the plot, too, but I just wish it would've been less drawn-out. Recommended for fans of Tamora Pierce, as well as fantasy and mystery books in general, especially people who are into "traditional" fantasy, but on a smaller scale.