Review: Dodger, Terry Pratchett

Title: Dodger (Goodreads)
Author:   Terry Pratchett

Rating: ★★★½☆

Dodger is a tosher – a sewer scavenger living in the squalor of Dickensian London.

Everyone who is nobody knows Dodger. Anyone who is anybody doesn’t.

But when he rescues a young girl from a beating, suddenly everybody wants to know him.

And Dodger’s tale of skulduggery, dark plans and even darker deeds begins . . .

Details

Series: Stand-alone
Genre: YA Fantasy Comedy
Published: HarperCollins, September 2012
Pages: 360
My copy: The publishers via Edelweiss

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository • Booktopia.com.au 
E-copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Barnes & Noble

Review

Dodger is on the tosh – that is, collecting valuables washed down drains into the old sewers. A massive storm arrives and Dodger happens to pop out to the street long enough to rescue a young girl who is trying to escape some violent men in a carriage. This rescue and subsequent meeting with one Mr Charlie Dickens sets off a chain of events that draws Dodger out of the slums and into more upper-class circles of Victorian London. Can Dodger work against the powers-that-be to rescue the girl of his dreams a second time, and make something more of his life?

Dodger is an interesting departure from the Discworld for Terry Pratchett. It feels very much like a City Watch book, with a mystery to be solved, dirty streets of a big city and policemen everywhere. I think that’s the main reason I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as I wanted to – every time the peelers (policemen of Sir Robert Peel’s Scotland Yard) were involved, I expected Nobby Nobbs to appear. Peel himself had rather a “beat copper” feel about him – very Sam Vimes. In any case, this is not the Discworld and I had to keep reminding myself of that as I read.

Pratchett has taken real-life personalities from Victorian England and put them into a fantasy situation. Charles Dickens, John Mayhew, Benjamin Disraeli and several other notable personalities are involved. At times, it did feel like people were being stuck in just to see how many could be included (Sweeney Todd, for example), but they did all mostly fit in with the story.

The story itself has exciting moments, although had a rather rambling start which slowed my progress into the book. Secondary to the main story was a very interesting look at how the poor lived in Victorian times – it was a time of extreme poverty for the underclasses of London. There are some distressing discussions of the trend of young girls who moved to the city, got taken advantage of by men who ply them with drink, then threw themselves into the river when they discovered they were pregnant. The plight of orphaned children is also rather terrible and is one of the reasons I like to keep away from Dickens and the like – too depressing!

Dodger lives in the Seven Dials with an old Jewish watchmaker. I’m not sure if Samuel Cohen is based on a real person but he is certainly a fascinating character – full of snippets of stories about his travels and meetings with famous people. I’d love to hear more about him!

Dodger has just the right amount of humour for a story with quite a dark undertone. Although billed as a “young readers” story, all fans of Pratchett (and indeed, fans of Dickens and Victoriana) should give this one a read. I just found that the story didn’t grab me quite as much as I hoped it would.

Warnings: Some violent behaviour.

What did others think of Dodger?

  •  “I can’t even begin to tell you how wonderfully well all of this is executed. The writing itself is strong, but the ideas are even better.” – Book Aunt
  • “…it is a terrific read, a break from Discworld for those who might not appreciate pure fantasy.” – Wickersham’s Concience
  • “Unexpected, drily funny and full of the pathos and wonder of life: Don’t miss it.” – Kirkus