Pierce once again expands Beka’s world by bringing her into the exclusive circle of royalty. Caught up in intrigues and politics, the royal family experiences a tragedy of unparalleled circumstances and reaches out to Beka for help. Along with Tunstall and Achoo, the weight of the realm is on Beka’s shoulders. Struggling against enraged mages and ambitious nobles, Beka and her team are all that might prevent the end of Tortall. While success may save the kingdom, it will cost Beka more than she could imagine.

Mastiff leaps into an interesting scenario, dropping hints about Beka’s personal life that will intrigue readers. Achoo is a sweet hound and Pounce, a talking cat, is delightfully sassy. However, what starts off as an interesting and exciting story quickly lapses into a long journey, with little to break up the monotony. While the middle of the book has readers turning pages out of loyalty to Beka, and little else, the final chapters arrive with a startling twist and heartwarming ending.

Sexual Content

  • Beka “went to him and kissed his cheek. ‘Thank you, Rosto. You’re a good friend.’”
  • When Beka meets the king, “all I could think as I stood there was the jokes from the days before his second marriage. ‘Randy Roger,’ ‘Roger the Rigid,’ stories of merchants’ daughters, soldiers’ daughters, noble daughters . . . Sabine, had earned herself a spell of patrol in the gods-forsaken eastern hills when she offered her king physical violence if he didn’t keep his hands to himself.”
  • Farmer complains that Iceblade only “talk(s) about his skill as a lover and his last woman. Beka overhears Iceblade talking about a woman with, “‘—nice, firm peaches,’ Iceblade was saying, his hands shaping the womanfruit he meant. ‘No pestiferous husband in the way, either.’”
  • A servant says she is safe from reprimand because “Master Niccols has taken his pleasures in my bed.”
  • After joining the Hunt, Lady Sabine talks to some silly noblewomen, who think her “travels with the three of you . . . though gods forbid they would say it! –are one long orgy.”
  • Beka mentions her ex-fiancé. “The best thing about Holborn was our time in bed. I missed the bedding, though not the man, and I deeply envied Sabine and Tunstall that night.
  • Farmer kisses Beka. “He caught me by surprise when he leaned down and kissed me softly. His lips parted from mine gently, he stroked a lock of my hair away from my face.”
  • When Farmer sees Beka dressed in a long shirt but no pants, he says, “It’s just that I’ve, I’ve never, well, you look different. Good. Very good.”
  • An evil mage says, “Sabine’s just a crude brawler, mad for sex and fighting.”
  • After being captured, Beka and Farmer admit they love each other, and kiss several times after that. “This time he held me carefully while kissing me in a most satisfying way . . . he sat on a bench and pulled me onto his lap. Then, with most of him around me, and me around a good bit of him, I was content to hold him.”
  • When Beka won’t stop laughing, “Farmer resorted to wanton kissing. That worked. I am much in favor of wanton kissing and other things.”
  • Farmer hides a ribbon that holds magic in his bum. When captured, he asks Beka, “Did they look in your bum, or in your coyne? . . . you could have a weapon in either place. A strangling cord at the very least.” Beka doesn’t watch as he removes the object from his bum.


  • Beka is slapped by a mother that blames her son’s death on Beka’s involvement with him. “I saw her slap coming, but I did naught to stop it. Only when she went for a second blow did I grab her wrist. ‘You cold, Cesspit trull!’ she screamed. ‘My poor lad was forever trying to impress you. He wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t been trying to prove himself as good as you.’ ”
  • Beka rides to a palace after there has been an attack. “Bodies lay among the flowers. Here were the missing Palace Guards, as well as men of the King’s Own, and the Black God knew how many servants, all burned, sword-hacked, or stabbed.”
  • The kidnapped prince is disguised as a slave and travels with a slave train. In Tortall, it is legal to own and sell slaves.
  • Beka finds a Dog that has been murdered. “The Dog lay half in the water, half out, just ten feet from the road. Animals had been at her legs. When we pulled her from the water, we saw fishes had been at the rest of her.”
  • Beka and her team discover a grave. Farmer digs the bodies up with magic, to discover what killed them. “With the other hand, he beckoned the dead forward. When they were but a foot away, he gently let them settle on the grass . . . The worms and beetles had been at them already. They were black and swollen with rot, their scant ragged clothes cutting into their flesh.”
  • Beka finds a young slave girl who was strangled. “The gixie Linnet was sprawled naked atop heaped slops from the kitchens. Her face was purple and swollen . . . I used my fingertips to push her up on her side. The blood in her body had flowed down into her back and bum, pooling there, turning that part of her skin purple.”
  • Beka and her friends are attacked. “I screamed as one hacked at Achoo. She danced out of the way and leaped for his throat, snarling. Pounce went for the eyes of the cove beside that one . . . A Rat came at me on my right. I swung my baton hard into his knees, hearing bone shatter as he pitched face-first toward the fire. He threw himself to the side, away from the flames, but didn’t remember I was still there with my dagger. I killed him and hunkered by his corpse, keeping low.”
  • Beka kills a mage who is trying to kill Farmer. “I reached the road just as lightning struck the ground in front of Farmer . . . I looked for the solid form inside the wavering illusion and struck as hard as I could . . . The image vanished. The mage lay in the road, a dent in her head from my blow.”
  • An inn catches on fire. “I could hear no voices, but I saw a burning body fallen on the steps . . . Three people stood by the well . . . their magics combined to draw up water into a great snakelike column that rose all the way to the attic.”
  • Achoo finds a pile of dead bodies. “Her face was bloated and black from the time she had lain here in the sun. She crawled with maggots. They all did.”
  • An evil mage insinuates that Beka slept with her foster father. “[Lady Teodorie] never struck me as the sort to let her man keep his child mistress under her roof.” Beka spits on him. The man then “slapped me hard, rocking my head back on my neck.”
  • Sabine slaps her cousin when she realizes she was involved in a plot to kill the King. “Sabine strode up to her and slapped her across the face. Nomalla let her do it, to my shock.”
  • Tunstall and Beka get in a fight. “I drew a long, flat knife from my arm guard and shoved the blade clean through the heavy muscle of his left forearm. Gritting my teeth, I wrenched it all the way around . . . he grabbed my braid at the end this time. I lifted myself as high as I could go, raising my arms as I gripped my baton two-handed. With all my strength I slammed my lead-cored baton down on Tunstall’s oft-broken knees.”
  • When his plot for power fails, “[Thanen] leaped from the tallest height in the castle. The coward left his family and remaining allies to face the royal courts.”
  • There are many executions after the plot to take over the throne is revealed. “When the day was done and the dead were left swinging or smoking, depending upon the magistrates’ judgment . . . since Prince Baird had not led the conspiracy based on the evidence, he would not be forced to endure being hanged, drawn, and quartered, as the other nobles had. Once it was done, his head was placed over the main palace gat as a warning to others with ambition.”


Drugs and Alcohol

  • Beka gives the queen a bit of wine to calm her after she suffers a fright.
  • Beka will consume alcohol on occasion, but she turns it down most of the time. “Tunstall offered me the small bottle of mead he always carries in case someone needs warming up, but I shook my head. I don’t like to drink at all when I’m on duty, even when it might warm me.” Another time, Beka “decided the wine was light enough that a cup wouldn’t addle me too badly, if I had some of the bread and cheese first.”
  • Farmer checks some water for sickness and poison. Beka is grateful and thinks, “I would have hated to slow us down while I shit my tripes out because someone had dumped offal upstream—or while I died of poison or spells.”
  • Beka drinks a bit while undercover. She “took a seemingly deep drink from my tankard. It was filled with strong ale. I sipped and let the rest stay where it was. The last thing I needed tonight was a gut full of spirits.”


  •  “Piss” and “scummer” are used often, typically in regards to the smells that Beka’s hound can track, but occasionally they are used as profanity as well. “Just now I felt like an unmade bed, while the sky continued to piss on me.”
  • Phrases and words such as “cracknob,” “cracked mumper,” “doxy,” “guttersnipe,” and “pox rot it” are used often.
  • “Ass” and “arse” are used often. Tunstall says, “We’re wasting time here, standing about with our thumbs up our asses.” Beka once says, “Craven canker-licking sarden arseworms,” when she discovers the kidnappers have burned a bridge so she can’t follow.
  • “Bastard” is said a few times. Achoo is called a bastard dog, and a ghost tells Beka, “Well, he’ll soon learn I won’t do as some randy bastard with a title bids. He’ll rue the day he crossed by friends and me!”
  • When Beka is strict, a man says, “I bet she sets the Corus Rats to kissing the mules’ arses . . . Stricter than their old mams!”
  • “Bitch” is said once, when a mage tells Beka, “We were only a day behind you, stupid bitch, riding hard. We passed you by night.”


  • Some people in Beka’s world have the Magical Gift, as it is called. This varies widely, and can be used from anything from healing and fighting to predicting or controlling the weather. A pair of mages manages to raise two sunken ships from the bottom of the sea after another mage senses them and projects an image of the ships above the water. “Two ships drawn in fire floated over the middle of the cove.”
  • Beka travels with a mage who calls himself Farmer. He is a powerful mage, who practices magic often. Sometimes his magic isn’t visible; sometimes it is very flashy. Once he sets a trap for another mage. “The blue sheath that covered him sent power flowing out over the little river to its opposite bank. An image formed over the water, bright against the dark and the magic. It was that of a woman in dull olive silk . . . The mixed-color fires rose from the river and flowed into the image of the Viper, swirling around until they swallowed her.”
  • Beka and some companions travel “under magical sleep, trapped onto their bunks to keep from flying off of them” because the ship is blow by mage-winds and are so fast “they don’t sail over the waves, they bounce off of them.”
  • Beka has a magicked mirror that “seemed to show me all manner of magics, whatever they were for and no matter what their strength.”
  • Beka’s cat is a constellation visiting the human world. After a nasty sea voyage, the cat says “I went to the Realms of the Gods once Achoo was under the sleep spell . . . Why should I remain for such an abysmal voyage if I don’t have to?” The constellation is not supposed to meddle in the human world, so he does so at the risk of angering the gods.
  • Beka can hear unhappy souls that ride on pidgeonbacks until they go to meet the Black God in his realm. As such, Beka is considered to be in the Black God’s service, and she often says prayers for the dead. “I closed the big cove’s open eyes with my fingers and set two copers from my purse on them . . . ‘Black God take you gentle, brave defender,’ I whispered. ‘The living will carry your duty now. Find the Peaceful Realms and rest.’ ”
  • An evil mage melts people who get in her way. “We both raised our lamps so we could better see the nastiness that was before us. It was a great soup that lay on the grass, trickling slowly into the river. I stared at it, fascinated. I recognized pieces of metal from horses’ tack, metal amulets and jewelry, and swords and daggers, but naught that was leather, cloth, or skin.”
  • Pounce steps in to stop Achoo from dying, even though he knows the gods will be angry. “Pounce set a forepaw on Achoo’s bleeding wound. Achoo shuddered all over and whined, but held still. Pounce kept his paw there a moment longer, then took it away . . . The wound closed and shrank, until it looked like an old scar.”

Spiritual Content

  • There are many gods in Tortall, though most rarely interact with mankind. The Mother, the Black God, Mithros, and the Drowned God are a few. Their most-often appearance in Tortall culture is their names being used as profanity, or exclamations of surprise. Tunstall says, “Mithros’s spear, what kind of cracknob picks a mage name like Farmer?”
  • The gods’ names are also invoked in greetings and blessings. One man tells Beka and her team, “I’ll make sacrifice to Great Mithros in your names, in hopes he’ll keep guiding you.” Another time Beka writes, “Gods all aid me and my Hunting team, I beg,” in her journal.
  • Beka and her cat can talk silently during hunts and when they are bored. “Pounce and I had entertained each other through prayers at Lord Gershom’s for years, and had begun again when our Hunts took us to noble houses.”
  • When Beka almost cries because they don’t have time to bury the bodies they discover, the Black God appears and buries them for her. This is the first time she has seen the Black God, the god of death. “You need not try to bury them, my finest priestess. I will do so . . . The god I’d been taught to call black reached out hands gloved in ever-changing colors, holding them over the murdered slaves, the guards, and the Viper. Suddenly green tendrils sprouted from the earth, twining around limbs and bodies like so many agile snakes . . . By the time they had stopped, the ground where the dead had lain was sunken. It looked as if their remains had been placed there decades ago and only flowers remained.”

by Morgan Lynn

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