It begins a few years after the previous book, as Beka mourns the death of her never-before-mentioned fiance (more on him later). It turns out she was on the verge of breaking up with him, and she’s glad of the distraction of a new Hunt–slang for a case to be solved. In some ways this is the most focused book of the trilogy–Beka and her friends are on the trail of a kidnapped prince, and the entire book centers around this journey.
There are some strong villains in here, and I loved Beka’s friends too. The lady knight, Sabine, had a bigger role in this book, and we had more of Pounce, Beka’s black cat. There’s also Farmer, a new character who’s a very interesting mage. I love it that he’s very powerful, but hides that behind a bumbling, cheerful exterior–although he really is wonderfully cheerful!
Despite a very cheery new character, this is darker than Pierce’s earlier books. Dark things have always happened–death, slavery, violence, kidnappings. The Beka Cooper Trilogy has always got more into the grittiness of it, though, and that’s very true here. There’s more detail and more description of the disturbing elements. One scene about a dead slavegirl is enough by itself to make this upper Young Adult, while Pierce’s earlier books often bounce between the Juvenile section and YA.
On the more positive side, there’s eventually some romance here, although it takes a while. Though considering my chief problem with Bloodhound was that the romance was too fast, I won’t complain about this one!
Actually, the romance I wish there had been more of was the one with the dead fiance. The book begins with the fiance already dead, and we only get hints about Beka’s relationship with him. I was hoping for some kind of extended flashback, but it never came. The hints are enough to suggest that it may have bordered on an emotionally abusive relationship, and in a strange way I think that would have been a wonderful story for Pierce to tell. Her stories about strong women are so inspiring, and it would have been so valuable to portray one of these strong women getting emotionally mixed up and into trouble. Beka is very capable in some ways, but she has uncertainties about relationships. I would never believe that she’d stay with a man who hit her, but I could believe that she could be emotionally manipulated, and that would be so good for girls to see–that you can be strong and capable and still get into a bad relationship, and it doesn’t make you pathetic or worthless.
But that’s my idea, and evidently not Pierce’s vision for the book, and I can’t really criticize her for not taking the story the direction I wanted it to go. One more serious objection I have involved a traitor in Beka’s group. They realize someone is probably betraying them as they travel, but Beka doesn’t give much attention to that. When the traitor’s identity finally comes out, it didn’t ring true to me. It feels more like someone acting out of character than like a shocking reveal.
Those problems aside, it’s a great adventure with strong characters and an engaging world. And now I can go back to looking forward to Pierce’s next book!
Author’s Site: http://tamorapierce.com