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Moments of Difference and Improvement in Bloodhound

This one was slightly difficult for me to get through. Tamora Pierce’s Bloodhound seems like nothing more than a collection of moments and Beka’s reflections. Moments of greed, and injury. Moments that tied the story to the future, and moments that decidedly did not. Despite being published in 2009, this was the first time I finished reading this book. Now, having finished it, I think that was because of some of the strengths and weaknesses of the book. Lets’s get into it.

Spoiler warnings for Bloodhound and all of Pierce’s Previous work.

So, What Happened?

Now a fully fledge Dog, Beka works through partners like wet tissue paper, cycling back with Tunstall and Goodwin in between. She rescues Achoo, a bloodhound, from an abusive handler, and Pounce leaves to deal with something in the stars. With help from her friends, she discovers that coles (false coins) show up more often in their money. From her pigeons and dustspinners, she learns that the rye crop is infected. Bread prices go up because of those two things, and the people riot. The rioters break Tunstall’s legs, and the family of a rogue Beka arrested attack her, so the Provost sends Beka and Goodwin to Port Caynn to investigate the coles.

They befriend Dale, Steen, and Hanse, three gamblers on the ferry to Port Caynn. The three of them invite the two to a gambling house that evening. Beka and Goodwin meet the Dogs of Port Caynn, and Lionel Trebond does not impress them as Watch Commander. They go undercover as ‘Dogs sent to learn about Port Caynn ways of Dogging’ so that no one knows about the cole investigation. Beka arrests a girl stealing purses and replacing them with ones full of silver coles. After that, the Rogue of Port Caynn, Pearl, drags them to her court and threatens them. Nestor, a dog and cousin of the Lord Provost, gets them out.

Beka and Goodwin investigate, asking one of Goodwin’s contacts to discover where the colemongers got their silver. They figure out that Pearl is responsible, the Dogs are corrupt, and that Lionel is too scared to do anything. Goodwin goes back to Corus for reinforcements. Beka intervenes when Goodwin’s contact is falsely arrested and Lionel arrests her. She then finds out where Pearl forges the coles. When help arrives, they chase down Pearl.

Moments of Improvement

Moments with LGBTQ+ Representation

Finally, after eighteen books and twenty-six years, we have LGBTQ+ representation in the Tortall books. Nestor, the sergeant in the Provost’s Guard that guides then in Port Caynn, is in an LGBTQ+ relationship.

Okha is Carthaki and committed to Nestor, smuggling maps of Pearl Skinner’s base out. They are first introduced to Beka and the audience as in a mlm relationship. “Okha bent and kissed Nestor’s mouth, then went inside the other room. … [Okha] filled cups for Goodwin, Nestor, and himself.” (p. 252). They’re an interracial committed couple with years of being partners. It’s an amazing thing in a society where some do not accept LGBTQ+ relationships.

Then, at the Waterlily, a gambling den, Beka meets Amber, a female singer, who she recognizes as Okha. Amber draws Beka aside, and after a discussion of Pearl and her dangers, explains, “Inside I am a beautiful woman’, Okha said. …The Trickster trapped me in my mother’s womb and placed me in this man’s shell. … At least I understand what happened,’ Okha said getting to his feet and smoothing his dress.” (p. 331). Given this discussion, Okha/Amber is meant to be a trans woman of color. Unfortunately, the narration continues to use he/him pronouns for Okha/Amber through the rest of the book, which leads to some confusion. While the speech Okha/Amber gives describes being trandgender—only presenting female during singing and dancing performances—the way the narrative treats Okha/Amber reads almost like stereotypical drag. But it also reads like someone closeted who can’t be out about their gender identity.

I can’t quite pin down how much of the narration is Beka misinterpreting and not knowing how to handle pronouns, and how much is Pierce not knowing how to write a trans character. Either way, it’s a step forward.

Moments of Feminism

Pierce includes many moments of intersectional feminism in Bloodhound. One of the threads of the book is the struggles of the poor and powerless, with the Bread Riot and other moments. Beka constantly worries about what will happen to the poor people, with grain prices rising, and coles infiltrating the market, and no king, guild, or Rogue to support them.

In addition, Bloodhound is satisfyingly sex worker-positive. Beka recommends that Fair Flory, the leader of the ‘flower girls’ or sex workers replace Pearl. Also, the book proves sex positive as well, given that Beka falls in love with Dale, buys a pregnancy charm, and alludes to having sex with him.

Furthermore, Pierce also addresses animal rights in several moments. Beka rescues Achoo from an abusive handler who beat her and starved her. Many moments describe how she feeds her a lot to bring her up to proper weight. Even Pearl won’t stand for animal cruelty. “Pearl’s face darkened. ‘It’s the lowest kind of scummer that will beat a creature who can’t speak of it.” (p. 492).

Pierce also makes up for some of her callousness regarding slavery with moments in Corus. Beka chased down someone who she knows to have coles, to find out where he got them. She finds a female slave in his house, and after Beka figures out he passed the coles on, Urtiz tries to bribe her. “Urtiz was one of those who liked to free slaves. That’s why he’d bought Ashmari. … Not to get me to turn a blind eye while he escaped, but wait until he’d freed her.” (p. 82). It’s a brief moment, and not complete recompense for her backsliding on slavery, but it shows that Tortall moves in a brighter direction sooner rather than later.

Moments of Difference from the Other Books

The Sewer Chase

Sometimes in books, certain moments need to be read in one sit down. Beka’s final chase of Pearl Skinner through the sewers is one such. One of Pearl’s lieutenants killed Slapper, a pigeon that followed Beka from Corus. She and Achoo chase down the lieutenant for hours, only for him to direct her to Pearl. Then she runs halfway across the city through the sewers and almost drowns fighting Pearl to bring her in. It’s visceral. Also, it is tonally distinct from Pierce’s other endings in a way that fits the genre but is still noticeable.

With previous heroines, Pierce went easy on them. Alanna powered through almost anything that her opponents threw at her, physical or emotional. Daine wound up magically exhausted several times, but the gods immediately healed her one major physical injury. With Kel, her wounds at the end of books tended to be emotional in nature. Aly, like her mother, brushed off any wounds she had to continue working. In the last book, Beka was fine. Here though, it’s different. Here we see Beka’s exhaustion, recorded across several days, as she writes down her actions.

But the true terror lies in these moments, “Goodwin and Pearl and I slept while mages worked on us. A scummer bath will kill someone that’s all cut up unless Lord Gershom pours coin into mages’ hands, saying, ‘Don’t you let them die.” (p. 628). Beka almost died because of her chase with Pearl. Maybe I just don’t feel the impact of the other endings anymore because I reread books a dozen times. But this was the first time I finished Bloodhound, and there were moments I could barely breathe because of this ending sequence. Thankfully, everything turns out alright, but this book ended much differently than previous ones have.

Moments of Dissonance Between Past and Present

Aside from nitpicks that I have about little things, Pierce faces challenges regarding writing Beka’s story in the past.

One of those is Lionel of Trebond. Yes, I get the joke going on here. ‘Beka is George’s ancestor, and Lionel is Alanna’s. Alanna’s ancestor did nothing competent in the whole story, imagine what she would think of him.’ His example shows how ostensibly good people can be coerced or intimidated into allowing bad things, yes. He also shows how class affects punishment. “You know how things are, Beka. He belongs to one of the most powerful families in the realm, and the King’s brother is his father-in-law.” (p. 636). But the major failing that I find in including Lionel of Trebond, rather than of anywhere else, is that joke becomes the only significant link between the past and present.

There are so many moments of dissonance between the past and present that at several times I almost felt I wasn’t reading a Tortall book at all. I would return to reading Bloodhound and think, why am I reading this crime novel? Part of it is good use of the genre from Pierce, but more that there were so few connections to previous books. Some of Pierce’s greatest successes in her previous books were showing cameos of previous characters in later series. Alanna shows up in Protector of the Small. Tkaa and the darkings show up in Trickster’s Queen.

But we don’t have anything like that here. There isn’t even a prologue and epilogue from Eleni to ground it, like in Terrier. Pounce gallivants through the stars for most of it, and we’re in a completely different city. Pierce even says she had trouble writing this book because of the plot.  Overall, it’s tonally different, with less to ground it with her other works.

Conclusion

Overall, Bloodhound uses a tightly strung plot to continue Beka’s journey. It also continues Pierce’s improving feminism, with some stumbling blocks. I mentioned in the opening that I couldn’t get through this book previously. I think the reason why is the last two segments.

Beka’s story is part of the police procedural/crime drama genre, blended with Pierce’s Tortallan fantasy setting. But when you blend genres, sometimes one overpowers the other. I think that was the case here.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a fabulous book, and I appreciate it much more now than I did five years ago. But it feels different than her other stories, and that feeling drove me, and probably some of her other readers, off. There were moments where Pierce flirted with grim-dark, but, ultimately, there is hope. Beka exhausts herself and almost dies, yes, but she also goes home to the Dancing Dove to a celebration with her friends and co-workers. A hard winter, but still spring.


Image Courtesy of Random House

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Angela is a full-time fantasy nerd. She is either reading a novel or talking about one. Or is watching Lord of the Rings for the hundredth time. Character archetypes and cultural context always fascinate her.

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