Terrier (Beka Cooper, Book 1)

Tamora Pierce, 2006

Premise: Young Beka Cooper wants nothing so much as to be part of the Dogs, aka the City Guards. When she finally starts her on-the-job ‘Puppy’ training with a pair of the best guards in the Lower City, she’s both thrilled and nervous. Her tenacity and her own small powers could help her become a great Dog, if she can first survive training.

The design of Terrier really risks being cutesy, but I liked it. The book is Beka’s diary, plus some supplementary documents in the front, and that occasionally means an entry about being sick and unable to write more, or an inkspill on the page. Because it’s written in her words, we’re thrown immediately into the dialect of the city, but you’ll have no trouble keeping up.

Beka is a great YA heroine. She’s brave and friendly, but afraid of speaking up sometimes. Her small paranormal abilities (not too exceptionally rare in a fantasy kingdom) sometimes feel like more trouble than they’re worth, but she uses them to enhance her police training.

The Dogs are like a more realistic medieval relation of the Discworld Night Watch, so of course I loved that aspect of this book. (Fantasy cops is definitely a sub-genre I’m soft on.) Police work is in its infancy here, so bribes are occasionally the order of the day, but the Guardsmen and women care about their city and protecting the people in it. I really liked the range of characters: Dogs and Puppys and various citizens and criminals.

The magic in the world was interesting and subtle, and the politics running under the surface intriguing. The two large cases that take up most of the plot of the book were well-structured, both interesting and sadly believable.

I think you probably already know whether you enjoy fantasy-adventure YA with a strong heroine and a good story, and if you do, Terrier is a good book to try out. It’s not great literature, but it’s solidly fun.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book (especially for YA)


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