Review: Dodger, by Terry Pratchett

Published on ReadKiddoRead.com, April 2013.

Dodger CoverDodger is a 17-year-old street urchin in Victorian London, a “tosher” who makes his living by scrounging in the mire and muck of the sewers below the city and pawning any lost and discarded treasures for a day’s wages. His work brings him into contact with many in the London underworld, and he does well enough to keep his head down and stay out of trouble.

But on one stormy evening, Dodger emerges from the sewers to witness a young woman leaping from a carriage into the rain, pursued by two men. Without thought, Dodger steps in to help, fighting off the men and whisking the young woman away to safety.

Dodger’s noble deed brings him into the company of a young journalist and writer, a Mister Charles “Charlie” Dickens, who hires him to learn more about the woman and the people who are chasing her. Herein lies the intersection of history, fiction, and fantasy, as Dodger must uncover the details of a murder plot while navigating all levels of British society with charm and no small amount of scrap. The quest is further complicated by the fact that the very same people chasing the young woman now have Dodger in their sights.

Dodger follows a few classic story tropes to create a compelling tale: he rises from his lowly station to be regarded as a young man of high repute; he grapples with the change occurring in his daily life and the people who knew him as just a street urchin; he fights and fights again in defense of the mysterious young woman; and he falls in love.

But what really sets the tale apart is the masterful evocation of a historic time period. Prachett brilliantly depicts such historic and legendary figures as Charles Dickens, Henry Mayhew, Sir John Tenniel, Miss Angela Burdett-Coutts, and Sweeney Todd, to name a few, while fully acknowledging the tweaking of dates, times, and places in the author’s note. Pratchett infuses these characters with a cheeky wit and diction that leaps off the page. Each crosses paths with Dodger in a myriad of surprising ways, and, in the case of Sweeney Todd, involves a near miss with the stroke of a razor.

To relay a sense of the tone, quoted below is an excerpt from the novel:

“[Dodger] had realized that if you were an urchin, then it might help to treat it as a vocation and get really good at it; if you wanted to be a successful urchin you needed to study how to urch. It was as simple as that. And if you are going to urch, then you had to be something like an actor… Safety lay in having one talent that you can call your own, and his lay in being Dodger, Dodger to the hilt.”

Dodger was the recipient of a 2013 Michael L. Printz Honor, bestowed upon a selection of the best books for young adults for literary excellence. Pratchett’s work here fits the bill, and the honor will ensure that teens will be diving into Dickensian London and finding a fantastic adventure full of action and mystery in Dodger’s story for many years to come.

Learn more about Terry Pratchett online at www.terrypratchettbooks.com