Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Book Review - Terry Pratchett's Dodger

Dodger by Terry Pratchett
Published by: HarperCollins
Publication Date: September 25th, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Dodger is a Tosher. The best Tosher there is, if he was asked. He knows all the secrets of the sewers under London and all the perfect places for a coin to get trapped in the muck, or more fortuitously, a bit of jewelry. Everyone knows and likes Dodger. His is a simple life, he doesn't desire more. Though one act of heroism will change everything forever; not just his reputation, but his outlook on life. Maybe Dodger does want something more, if there was a someone to want the more for...

It was a dark and stormy night, as all good stories start, and Dodger rescued a damsel in distress from some thugs by leaping out of the sewers and thwarting their attempts to do a bit of mischief. Shortly the sewer rat and the damsel are stumbled upon by Charles Dickens and his good friend, Henry Mayhew. These two eminent Victorians take the care of the young girl to heart, knowing more about the underbelly of London than the average citizen. But Dodger still follows, concerned for the young girl's safety. The young girl, who they dub Simplicity, is in a bad way, she has miscarried and it is obvious that the danger to her life is coming from someone rather high up the social ladder, if the fancy ring she is wearing is anything to go by. She is scared, but she trusts Dodger implicitly.

Dodger, totally smiting, makes it his goal to find these evil men and make the world safe for Simplicity. Easier said than done. Ever since that night Dodger seems to be attracting danger. He thwarts a robbery at Dickens' newspaper, he fights of Sweeney Todd, has dealings with Disraeli, and all the while, he feels as if what's happening and what people think is happening are two entirely different truths. That's something Charlie specializes in, the malleability of the truth. Let people believe what they want to. Could this work to Dodger's advantage? Could he create a new truth, a false truth, by playing with what people expect to see versus what they really see? Dodger sure is learning a lot and his star is definitely coming up in the world.

There is one thing that mystifies me about this book and it's how they are promoting it as a historical fantasy. To me it is historical fiction plain and simple. I mean most historical fiction is quite fantastical, just look at some of the things Philippa Gregory has written, or even The Tudors TV series. License in writing historical fiction gives you a lot of leeway, without having to add the additional "fantasy" label. I really didn't find anything in this book that would have been totally unrealistic for the time and setting and therefore needing this added genre. But, I have a feeling it was more for the fans of Terry. Terry Pratchett writing historical fiction? No no, you must be wrong, there has to be a bit of fantasy in there cries the fan base. Personally, I don't see why they bother, they being the publishers, Terry's fans are some of the most loyal out there, I mean, even this hideous and totally not at all relating to anything in the book cover hasn't put them off. I mean, this book was one of the few books willing to go up against J.K. Rowling's new book with the same release date, unlike other authors, like Ian Rankin, whose publishing date was pushed back. Than again, it is a YA book, so a different list... which brings me to another point, why YA? But then again, I've never been one to really separate why some books by an author are YA and some are not. Pratchett is Pratchett and Discworld is Discworld, no matter what those wack jobs who always insist that the YA Discworld shouldn't be counted... yes, that was a huge argument I had a few years back on Goodreads, thankfully Terry himself was in favor of my reasoning. Suck it YA haters!

If Terry's purpose in writing this book was to create an homage, not just to the world of Dickens, but to Dickens' style of writing and his characterization, I have to say he succeeded admirably. Dodger feels like a modern book that Dickens himself would have written. There is a vast cornucopia of interesting characters from Dodger's "landlord" Solomon and his adorable and loyal dog Onan (wiki that name and you'll get a funny joke, like Pratchett, I will not repeat it myself), to the French lady who feeds soup to the destitute, to the Mayhews and their love of social reform and rehabilitation, to Charles Dickens himself. The characters though are just one level of Dickensian drama. The plot itself, especially the solution for Simplicity, is one that I'm sure Dickens himself would have written, it has some of the more far fetched elements of say Our Mutual Friend. More than anything though, it was the pacing that made me think of Dickens. This isn't a book to be ploughed through, beginning to end, it's a world you stroll through, leisurely, savoring the characters. I think Dickens would be proud, and if this even ended up being adapted for stage or screen, I'm sure Dickens would demand to play himself.

Yet underneath that Dickensian shine, there is Pratchett. That lovely little devious Brit in black. There are footnotes and asides that only Terry could do. And in the end, this book deals with one of Terry's favorite themes, Truth, and yes, it needs the capitol "T." Terry has explored in various books, including one called The Truth, the idea that Truth is malleable, that it is what we make it. The way Dickens tries to explain this to Dodger shows that Dickens is Terry's conduit, the author within the book telling you how it is. Truth can easily be changed by writers, and more so by writers in the press. Yet, there is Truth that needs to be accepted, people need their fantasies, they need to believe certain things to survive. Everyone needs their own Truth, and it's what you make of it that matters. My Truth? I need a world with Terry Pratchett in it.


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