Beka Cooper: Terrier
Random House Children's Books
Terrier is the first of two books I know about for certain that cover part of Tortall's past. The second, Bloodhound, has yet to be released. Current estimates are sometime next spring, although the excerpt in the back of Terrier says, I think, this December.
Anyway, unlike the other books set in Tortall, the Beka Cooper books are done in the form of journals. The prologue to the book, journals of Eleni Cooper (from the Lioness Quartet) and Beka Cooper's mother (I think, again) are done in different fonts to represent the different hands, and even creative misspellings. There are also the occasional pages in the book where an inkblot has been represented (with a page in the excerpt where there are paw prints from the cat stepping across the page). All of these serve to suggest that this is the actual diary, and not an edited copy put to the printers at some later point.
The slang is a bit heavy in these books, but it makes sense as rather than being of noble birth as Kel or Alanna are, Beka is from the poorest parts of the city, and is working in those regions as well.
Through the course of Terrier, Beka Cooper, one of the ancestors of George Cooper, the Rogue/King of Thieves, is undergoing her training as a member of the Provost's Guard, usually termed 'Dog'. It's not just a training period as she ends up working two very difficult cases, for which, thanks to her gifts of magic, she is uniquely suited.
Tamora Pierce has woven in some unique twists that kept me up late reading the book (and this was on a re-read). After you get used to the slang (and there is a glossary in the back of the book to help where the meaning isn't immediately obvious), you'll find the book hard to put down.
Last time I read the book, I refused to read the excerpt from the next book. This time I wasn't so smart and now I can't wait for Bloodhound to come out.
Edited on April 19th: Bloodhound is out, and it's as good as Terrier.