REVIEW: Dodger by Terry Pratchett
Much of Terry Pratchett's output is occupied by his famous Discworld series, but of late, it seems that he is making a comeback to original novels, particularly for younger readers. In 2008, Pratchett published the alternate history novel Nation, a good but serious work. Now, four years later, he comes to Victorian London, a setting that seems so much like Ankh-Morpork of the Discworld books. And anyone thinking that this will be a Pratchettian take on Oliver Twist is in for a twist themselves...
The life of a tosher is a hard one, scavenging valuables from the muck of London's sewers. The street-savvy kid known as Dodger is a little more fortunate than most, in that he has lodgings and a man looking after him. And so many people in the rookeries and other low places of London know him. But when Dodger saves the life of a young woman, calling herself Simplicity, who escapes from a carriage, he finds himself under unwanted attention from corners both benign and malevolent. There's Charlie, the journalist and aspiring novelist, and associate Henry,both well-to-do men who are concerned about the state of London's poor. But there is also those behind the attack on Simplicity, and they will stop at nothing to get her back. Dodger is thrown into an unfamiliar world of poshness and politics, where a woman's life is a price willing to be paid for peace between countries, and heroes and villains are easily manufactured at the stroke of a pen, but Dodger's street smarts might just put him out on top...
Anyone expecting Dodger to be about the character from Oliver Twist are going to be disappointed, although there is indeed a Dickensian slant to the whole book. And Dodger does not explore as many of the deeper themes as Nation does. But while there is a lack of actual depth compared to that story, Dodger more than makes up for it in entertainment value. To be sure, there are some rather dark themes for even older children (Pratchett revisits the spectre of miscarriage from I Shall Wear Midnight very early on in the novel), but at the same time, it's also lighter than many of his previous books for older children. It's a rocking good yarn that will no doubt interest many people in the history of the time (a number of the characters are actual historical personages, with Charles Dickens and Robert Peel being the most famous) as a beneficial side-effect, even if the tale, in the end, feels a little like a tale of sound and fury, signifying little (with apologies to Mr Shakespeare).
I wish some of the characters were a little more fleshed out. Dodger doesn't seem like that well fleshed-out a protagonist in many regards, but he is a competent and interesting hero nonetheless, and Simplicity, while her backstory is interesting, feels just a tad too flat for my liking. Solomon is a rather more interesting character, as is the brief cameo of a certain homicidal barber. Charlie (aka Charles Dickens) is also interesting, although it feels more like London and its society as a whole is a far more interesting character than the vast majority of those here, real or fictional.
Keep in mind that these criticisms are more nitpicks than anything else. Dodger is certainly leagues above many other books, and while dark, it is certainly alive and interesting and entertaining, and will appeal to fans of Pratchett, Dickens, and Victoriana in general...
Quatermass wrote:Okay, my review on another BBS, posted in spoiler brackets on chris.ph's Dodger thread.
TW, do we ever have any idea of what country's prince "Simplicity" was married to? They say Germanic or something similar, but even I know that Germany wasn't a single country in those days. Or is it just one of those things Pratchett leaves up in the air? And I was a little surprised that, given that this takes place during the early years of Victoria's reign and Dickens' career, that William Honeisn't mentioned.
Love the Sweeney Todd cameo, and it's actually refreshing to see Dodger not being the Artful Dodger.
Tonyblack wrote:Yes, I had that typo too. I fail to see how the editors miss such a thing. I find something like that very off putting.
As to the wine question - I wondered that too. The grape seems to have existed then, but I'd have expected it to be referred to as a white Bordeaux.
Still, it's hardly worth quibbling about.
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