Bloodhound is the much-awaited second volume in the Beka Cooper series by Tamora Pierce. It's set in Pierce's fictional fantasy world of Tortall, home of her previous heroines found in the Song of the Lioness Quartet (the Alanna books), the Immortals Quartet (the Daine books), the Protector of the Small Quartet (the Kel books), and the Trickster Duet (the Aly books). The first book in this trilogy (which, I confess, I thought was another set of two until I was reading the author's Livejournal before starting this review, so I'm pleased to hear there will be another one), Terrier, came out back in 2006, and the delay, due to a car accident and Pierce's subsequent recovery, meant that Beka's world was a little fuzzy in my memory before I started this book.
If you aren't familiar with Tamora Pierce's work, this is not the series to start with, and even if you are familiar with the world of Tortall and didn't read the first book in the series, I'm not sure I'd recommend reading this one without first tackling Terrier. It's a complex story set several hundred years before the "modern" world of Tortall that we've grown familiar with from previous series, and the differences take some getting used to. On top of the time difference, this book is written in a first-person journal format, a fairly significant change from Pierce's previous third-person narratives. To further establish the time and place, both volumes in this series are full of the dialect of Beka's Tortall, and it took me some time before I stopped flipping to the glossary.
So before the rest of you leave feeling disenfranchised and I start talking about Bloodhound, I do highly recommend the other books in the realm of Tortall. My favourites, by a huge margin, is the Protector of the Small series, but they are made more satisfying by familiarity with the previous books as characters from the earlier series pop up throughout later books. Start with the Alanna books if you want to read chronologically, but I think her writing improves drastically over the years, so if you don't love Alanna but really like the world she's created, try Kel. I may get lynched for this opinion since I know how beloved a character Alanna is, but I read all of the Alanna books, Daine books, and the first two Kel books all within about three weeks of each other back in 2001, as an adult, so I don't have the lengthy association with Alanna or the childhood memories of reading that series, and I found Kel a much better-written character.
However, although I could talk about Tortall all day (why yes, I am a big nerd, thanks for noticing), I should actually be talking about Bloodhound. In the first Beka Cooper book, we are eased into the time frame and style of the book with a prologue from George Cooper's mother. Beka Cooper, the main character and narrator of the series, is an ancestor of George, who will grow up to be Alanna's husband. The George we hear about in the first book is a young George, and he is the bane of his mother's existence. She despairs of what her son will grow up to be given the path he is on, and wonders what his ancestor, a famous and well-respected police officer in her time, would think of George the thief.
We are then thrust into Beka's world, from the perspective of her diary. I got used to the first person much faster with Bloodhound, having had all of Terrier to make the mental shift. Because Beka is a fairly tight-lipped character, the diary format allows for more insight into the character than would naturally evolve in a different voice, and it helps give Beka more of the personality that Pierce's characters are so well known for.
After Terrier, the story of Beka's time as an apprentice police officer, known as a Puppy, Bloodhound finds Beka a full-fledged police officer, known as a Dog. After some initial struggles finding a partner, she is sent to Port Caynn with Goodwin, one of her former trainers, to investigate the sudden appearance of counterfeit silver. She quickly finds herself embroiled in the drama and danger surrounding Pearl, the Rogue of Port Caynn, and with her recently-rescued scent hound, Achoo (so named for the sneezing whenever Achoo has a scent to follow), Beka is soon waist deep in the corruption of the city.
Because the action and the story are moved to Port Caynn in this installment, many of the characters from the first book are not major players in this book. It take some time for the new characters to settle in, and the lack of Pounce, Beka's magical cat, is a significant loss, but Achoo, like almost all of Pierce's animal characters, has a great deal of personality even without the ability to talk. In a pleasant development, this book is the first of Pierce's Tortall books to feature openly gay characters, and the nonchalance with which Beka handles the situation is a nice touch.
There are times when the slang and diary style become a bit much, and at 500 pages I found the story bogging down quite a bit in the middle, but overall, this is a solid companion to the first book in the series. Despite the first-person perspective, I was left feeling less familiar with Beka than with most of Pierce's other main characters, and one of my favourite elements of Pierce's other series, where minor characters from previous books suddenly become significant characters in later ones (best demonstrated by Raoul, of whom I had virtually no opinion in the Alanna books but then quickly became one my all-time favourites in the Kel books), is impossible in this series simply because of the time period it is set in. (You could argue that Pounce fulfills this role in these books, since he is reincarnated later as Alanna's cat Faithful, but Pounce is absent from most of this story.)
However, despite all of that, a less-good Tamora Pierce book is like a less-good Pixar film - it is far better than most of the rest of what's out there, and the Tortall books remain the only non-Harry Potter fantasy series that I will continue to buy exclusively in hardcover as soon as a new one is out. (Not coincidentally, I have a near-complete collection of Pixar movies on DVD.) Pierce fans will enjoy Bloodhound, and those not familiar with Pierce's work have many excellent books to look forward to. Beka's story will conclude in Mastiff next year, and I look forward to reading it. Until then, I will continue to nerd out about talking Tortall. Feel free to add your two cents on your preferred heroine, your favourite minor character who became significant later on, and try to convince me that the Darkings aren't the cutest fantasy invention since Pigwidgeon the tiny owl. (Ok, technically they came before Pig. But he is the cutest character in fantasy that I could come up with. Come on, he's a pocket-sized owl! What's not to love?)