Beka Cooper grew up in the slums of Tortall’s capital city. She was a street Rat until the Lord Provost saw her and her family, rescuing them from life in the slums or worse. Now, at 16, she’s repaying a little of her family’s debt by becoming a member of the Provost’s guard.
She’s still in training, a Puppy to the Dogs, and even if she’s doing the rounds with two of the best Dogs in the pack, she’s supposed to keep her head down and learn. Except Beka’s no ordinary Puppy: she sees ghosts of the recent dead on the back of pigeons and she talks to “dust spinners,” columns of dust that catch the conversations they “hear.” It’s by using these resources that she learns two things: someone is hiring men to dig for fire stones, very valuable and very magical stones, and then killing them off; and someone called the Shadow Snake is kidnapping and holding small children for ransom, and then killing them if the ransom is not paid.
So she and her two Dogs take on the cases, combing through the streets of the Lower City, trying to solve these mysteries before more people end up dead.
It’s an interesting breed, this book: one part crime thriller/murder mystery, one part magical fantasy. You wouldn’t think it would work, but because of Beka’s strong voice, it does. She really is her own person, someone who is quick on her feet, observant, and determined not only to succeed on her own terms, but wanting to make the place she grew up in better for everyone.
Admittedly, the animal references — from calling the cops “Dogs” and the criminals “Rats” — and the language Pierce created (that coves are men and mots are women took me forever to figure out) slowed me down at first and made the book difficult to really get into. But after I got used to the language and the terminology, Beka’s personality really came through and the plot was enough to carry the book through the sluggish parts.
Rated: Mild for violence and mature themes.