Pierce's sturdy policewoman Beka Cooper returns for a triumphant trilogy conclusion.
The book opens at the interment of narrator Beka's fiancé, a fellow Dog; some three years have passed since the events of Bloodhound (2009). Far from being grief stricken, Beka feels a guilty relief at the release. She finds the prospect of a high-stakes Hunt with partner Tunstall positively invigorating, although the political stability of Tortall hinges on its success: The young heir to the throne has been kidnapped. Beka and Tunstall—and her animal companions, the supernatural cat Pounce and scent hound Achoo—are joined by Tunstall's lover, the lady knight Sabine, and a Dog mage, Farmer Cape. Farmer plays the fool, but Beka and company soon realize his powers and intellect far exceed those of the typical Kennel mage—a good thing, too, because Tortall's magical community appears to be allied against the king. Pierce has long been lauded for her kickass heroines, and in Beka she has created her most compelling, complicated character. The plainspoken Beka's moral compass never wavers, but there's believably human confusion at her core. Pierce's gutsiest move is starting with Beka's failed romance—thereby providing a welcome reality check for readers who have been peddled the eternal-first-love bill of goods from every direction.
An involving police procedural wrapped in fantasy clothing, this novel provides both crackerjack storytelling and an endearingly complex protagonist. (Fantasy/mystery. 12 & up)