Well, this is a slight departure. An entire series? A full trilogy? Would that not make my post even more verbose, bordering on the edge of interminable? On another day, another life, another fork of time’s limitless pathways, yes there could be a danger of reviewing an entire series, but not so today! The reason is a bit pathetic really: I read all three books about two to three months ago, while still residing a lifetime away in Maryland. My memory of them individually lacks monumental detail. So then why bother? Why keep these books hanging on tenterhooks instead of moving on to more recently consumed literatura? If you must know (and naturally you must, else this blog would be quite meaningless to you as a reader), I just loved the food descriptions. I also thoroughly enjoyed the novels, but I marveled at Tamora Pierce’s use of food in these books. So read on, folks, read on.
My love of Young Adult fiction obviously started when I was myself a young adult, but it didn’t really blossom until a few years ago I guess (a lot of few years, to be fair), far past my young adulthood. Late bloomer? mayhaps. Just thank J.K. Rowling that I did rediscover it, and all its wonderful glory. So I never read anything by Tamora Pierce. But in the past six years or so, I heard her name quite often… so when I saw that I could rent her books directly to my Kindle from my local library, I figured now was the right time to delve. I began with one of her other series (Protector of the Small) which I thought was very endearing and well developed. I also read her short stories. And then I came across this one… for those familiar with her works, you’ll know I’m going horribly out of order of her publication dates as well as her world timeline/mythology. It’s a beautiful thing to see an author so dedicated to make stories all within the same universe, just centered around different people, different time periods, all connected by heritage or experience somehow though…
Besides the point. So I know I have missed some major series, but such is life. I fell upon dear Beka Cooper…
Her doggedness (oh, no pun intended I swear) in wanting to become a “Dog” (an elite guard/police figure) is realistically captured from the events of her childhood–painful and necessary motivators–to her well developed need to care for her family (who slowly grow seemingly not to need her) and the luckless and defenseless around. Pierce focuses on heroines in different walks of life, of all demeanors, in each of her stories, to bring about a rich telling of female empowerment and ultimate psychological dominance. I loved that Beka Cooper is painfully shy, unless/until she has her uniform on and ready for duty. I can (sadly?) relate to that very strongly, so maybe I could glean some inspiration from her? The first two book in particular I felt painted the portrait of a young woman coming of age, able to make and recover from mistakes, battling her insecurities and discomfort with her own skills and success. The third one takes a slight departure; there are too many early changes in her character (for someone so dedicated to knowing her heart and who she cares about and how she will let them care for her, a sudden unhappy engagement to start doesn’t ring true at all, and the effortless way it just goes away, even less so). But the third also introduced my favorite character, Farmer Cape. A fitting name to cultivate the visage of country innocence and undeveloped knowledge that belies the depth of his talents. So it’s a give and take.
Oh but to the point, that which lingers, sweet and pervasive. There are so many references and experiences of food and feasting in these novels! Makes my heart swell, and my tummy rumble. Pierce uses food very distinctly to distinguish the varying cultures in her universe; treats that evoke the restraint of Eastern Asian cultures, the earthiness of African cultures, and the homeliness of the more European, for example. I wish I had the books with me to refer to particular scenes for you. My pathetic explanation now does no justice to her accurate research. I was sincerely curious on numerous occasions to know what many of the dishes tasted like (but not all!). Oh you’ll just have to read them to see… trust me, the overall experience is well worth it. Despite particular fantastical elements of the world, the story is grounded in a single girl’s life lessons and coming of age.
Let’s keep this short. I already mentioned my favoritism lies with the first and second, while the third lagged in a few areas. Nevertheless, the entire tale is worth discovering. There are times while reading a novel that I cringe at the predictability of the plot–this is not one of those times, because while there is very little to no difficulty in ascertaining who the culprits are of each tale, where lies the truth and the lie, the fun is in experiencing it through Beka’s eyes. The stories are in Journal format, which could have been daunting and tiresome but are carried out well. There’s enough to keep the story going, and enough to make it feel plausible and not weighted down by a simple rehashing of details. Because of Beka’s battles with handling attention (mostly good), the fun lies in her honest dictating, her lack of artifice. Oh but I go off of memory. Shame shame.
Food:One scene, in Book 2 (Bloodhound) has stuck in my hungry brain, satisfying my sweet tooth at every turn of thought. Beka is being courted by a charmer named Dale who treats her to some delights during some street festival of sorts. Images of something akin to a Renaissance Faire come to mind, very much a European ambience at least. I can see the colors, the spectacles, and the food she feasted on: fried dough. What? That sounds… heavy and greasy, until you learn it’s coated in cinnamon, nutmeg, and drizzlings of honey. It may include currants or nuts, or simply be fluffy in itself… And when Dale is delicately feeding her these dough “knots” it hits you: doughnuts. Obviously.
I have been thinking about this for months, but now with graduate school it took ages for me to put together the ingredients and the time to whip this up, but I did. To… marginally good results. I used recipe #2 from this site (mostly because it was so basic and simple) to make my dough (though I mixed wheat and white flour, fyi, and cut the recipe in half–what would I do with so much otherwise??), and then created a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar to roll my “knots” in. I actually added raisins as well to some, for a little variance and possibly to summon an older, authentic essence.
The results were middle ground: initially they really melted in my mouth, and were absolutely delightful with some tea. However, I saved them for my family who visited two days later, and obviously by then they lost their luster. Fried dough by any name should only be savored immediately. Lesson learned.