Terry Pratchett – Dodger
122. Dodger by Terry Pratchett (2012)
Read By: Stephen Briggs
Length: 10h 31m (368 pages)
Genre: YA Historical Fiction (In his author’s note, Pratchett calls it “historical fantasy”, but there is nothing that I would consider fantasy in this book.)
Started: 15 October 2012
Finished: 29 October 2012
Where did it come from? From the lovely folks at Harper Audio for review.
Why do I have it? Terry Pratchett read by Stephen Briggs has worked out awesomely every time I’ve tried it thus far.
Dodger’s at home in
the sewers, but posh life can
be just as nasty.
Summary: Dodger is a tosher – a member of Victorian London’s underworld (quite literally), who roams the sewers, scavenging for coins, jewelry, and other items of value. He might not exactly be a member of respectable society, but he lives by a certain code. One stormy night he hears a young lady’s cries for help, and emerges from the sewers in time to drive off her attackers. She won’t give her name, but once she’s at a safehouse, she becomes the focus of attention of some very powerful people – a journalist known as Mr. Charlie Dickens, for one. Dodger’s more used to picking the pockets of people like these than attending dinner parties with them, but if the young lady is going to be safe for real, it’s going to take a monumental effort, and all of Dodger’s varied – if slightly disreputable and unsavory – skills.
Review: First things first: I wanted to clear up some misconsceptions I had about this book going in, since I think they might be things that other people are wondering about as well. Namely: no, this is not obviously set in the same world as Nation. It’s set in early Victorian London, not an alternate history. It’s also peopled with a ton of real people from the Victorian era, including Charles Dickens, Henry Mayhew, Benjamin Disraeli, Joseph Baselgette, Robert Peel, and others. Also, no, this is not a fantasy novel. Pratchett calls it “historical fantasy” in his author’s note, but I really didn’t find anything to classify it as such, nor even really much to call it an alternate history. (I mean, Charles Dickens probably didn’t do this stuff in actual history, and I realize that Sweeney Todd was not a real person, but that’s about the extent of it.) There are admittedly a number of extremely unlikely coincidences and happenings, but the closest thing to supernatural or any other kind of fantasy element is the Lady of the Sewers, a goddess/patron saint to whom Dodger occasionally prays.
All that said, it turns out that Pratchett’s just as deft with historical fiction as he is with fantasy. (Or YA historical fiction and YA fantasy; I’ve still read relatively few of his non-YA books.) This book’s got everything one might expect from a Pratchett novel: sympathetic characters, a smart sense of humor, and a down-to-earth perspective on the world and on growing up. It was maybe not as sharply satirical of some of the other of Pratchett’s books that I’ve read, although it made its points quite clearly about choosing who you want to be, and the way in which perception is not truth, particularly the perception of who someone is, and even if it were truth, truth can be shaped and manipulated and looked at from different angles. Sometimes, perhaps, it makes those points a little too clearly; there were times when it seemed like Dodger was repeating himself, having the same revelation he’d had a few chapters ago. But they’re smart revelations that maybe bear repeating, so I didn’t mind too much. There’s also enough action to keep the readers busy, and a surprising depth of character, not only for Dodger, but also for a number of the secondary characters as well.
In short, while I didn’t love this quite as much as Nation or the Tiffany Aching books, I still really enjoyed every minute of listening to it. Stephen Briggs yet again does a wonderful job with the audiobook narration; his dry tone is just a perfect match for Pratchett’s sense of humor. 4 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: Recommended for Pratchett fans and newbies alike; it’s maybe not his best, but it’s really good. I think fans of Victorian literature are likely to get the biggest kick out of the setting and cameo appearances, but there’s enough else going on that even folks who aren’t typically historical fiction fans should still enjoy themselves.
First Line: The rain poured down on London so hard that it seemed it was dancing spray, every raindrop contending with its fellow for supremacy in the air and waiting to splash down.
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