I will be honest. When I first started reading this, I absolutely hated it. For one thing, it’s in diary entry, which I always think is a waste in an adventure story. For another, we start with two journal entries from two people who are not main characters. And yes, they were meant to set the scene, but I just didn’t care for it (especially the mother who spoke with such an accent that half the time I was guessing at what she was saying).
But then we got to the story and things became much more interesting. I’m a sucker for kids-in-training novels, so long as they are well written, which is what drew me to this novel in the first place. Plus there’s magic, which is another thing I love.
Beka Cooper grew up in the poor part of town, until she and her family were taken in by a wealthy Provost after she helps him find a dangerous gang. (She tracked them after they hurt her mother and she wanted them to be punished.) While her sisters are attracted to the more elegant lifestyle being given to them in the Provost’s home, Beka is more interested in becoming a Dog (which is the word for Police in this book). A Puppy (trainee) assigned to the best pair of Dogs on the force, Beka is stationed in the Lower City, one of the most dangerous places (but also where she grew up). But rather than being just an ordinary Puppy, Beka has some secrets that help her in her fight against crime: 1) An intelligent “cat” (certainly not an ordinary cat), 2) the ability to speak to dead spirits that attach themselves to pigeons, 3) the ability to listen to the sounds and emotions gathered up by dust spinners, and 4) a knack for befriending people in important positions (the provost, a mage, a swordswoman and a swordsman, and the granddaughter in law of a powerful man in the city). But perhaps her best quality of all, is her inability to let go of a case once she’s begun working on it. And between all her informants, she discovers two large mysteries: a mysterious kidnapper calling himself Shadow Serpent after children’s tales meant to terrify kids and a group of workers who are hired to dig and then murdered.
Beka quickly learns how dangerous being a Dog (and especially, being a Puppy with a penchant for trouble) really is.
What I love about this series is how Beka, despite all her obvious strengths, still has trouble with simple things like speaking in public and blending in with the rich world where her siblings remain. I like the shy but bold persona, which isn’t common in most hero in the making stories. The heroes often have a weakness but shyness and insecurity is rarely one of them.