Okay, I've finally finished this one, and I suppose I'm going to be in the grumpy minority again, but....
For me, Dodger really confirms what I've been dreading all along--that the deterioration of Pterry's writing skills, that, for me at least, has been evident since Unseen Academicals and was thoroughly manifested in Snuff, seems to be permanent. I do believe, as I've said before, that this decline has been due to Pterry's need to "dictate" books rather than type them, which tends to lead to verbosity, cluttered thoughts, and repetition. This and the fact that it appears the books Pterry writes on his own (not in collaboration) or that are not heavily edited (as his children's books are) suffer.
What Dodger is Pterry's attempt to write a Dickens novel, or specifically a variation of "Oliver Twist," that literally uses both the names of Dickens' characters (Dodge, Pip, and Dickens himself) and borrows from the plots of his works. Pterry seems to find this format--and the format of the Victorian novel itself, which he used in Snuff--suitable to his new dictating writing style. However, this format also carries the flaw of allowing its author to overwrite, overwrite, overwrite.
This is perhaps the first Pterry book where I've actually skipped whole paragraphs because they were full of repetitious exposition. How many times do we need to get explanations of the tosher's life? How many long-winded portrayals of characters who have less than a paragraph of 'action' do we need? Why do we need pages and pages of uninteresting trips to tailors and haberdashers? Why did the scene in the coroner's office have to go on endlessly? Why the unhealthy obsession with toilets, excrement and urine--which might have had a little bit of amusement in Snuff since pooh-collecting was young Sam's hobby, but here it's just vulgar and serves no purpose.
The plot here is as tired and cliched as a penny dreadful. Dodger is like the Sam Vimes of Snuff--indestructible, wily, with no flaws at all. Simplicity is a complete cipher; she's supposed to be deeper than she is, but there's nothing to her. We're supposed to believe that she's manipulating Dodger to achieve her goals, but she is such a weak character that, other than her looks, it's hard to imagine why someone as sharp and streetwise as Dodger would fall for her. The only memorable character in the book is Solomon, who Pterry's very carefully tries to craft as the "anti-Fagin," but even his monologues become long and boring after awhile.
And why do we even need the one chapter in the book without Dodger in it where the "mysterious villain" gives Sharp Bob his orders? It makes no sense, breaks up the continuity, and no other similar scene occurs.
This is also a book where even Pterry's footnotes don't make sense. Near the end, he puts in a footnote telling readers to go to Google to look up the meaning of the dog's name Onan--does he think we're all so stupid that this wouldn't occur to us? And why, when he's creating a novel that's supposed to immerse us in 19th century Britain, does he need to direct us to the Internet?
A good editor would have trimmed this by at least 50 pages, mainly by getting rid of the 'expository fat' that deadens its pace. Dickens was extremely good at exposition; he was also motivated to write more because he was a serial writer, and the longer the book, the more 'chapters' he could sell. Long-winded exposition has never been one of Pterry's strengths. In fact, one of his key strengths in the best DW books is that he knew how to write exactly enough, and to make sure that
every sentence counted. He has lost this ability, and his recent "solo" works are showing this.
If this were not written by Pterry, it probably would be considered an unmemorable, YA 'history-fantasy' book that would be quickly forgotten. Because Pterry's name is on it, it's given a higher level of scrutiny. But, that should also make any criticisms valid. It is still amazing that he can produce books in spite of his limitations. However, he is no different that any other writer whose work is published in that the work should be judged on its own merits (or lack thereof). Dodger may be an enjoyable read, but it's not a particularly original or good book.