Book Review: Terry Pratchett’s Dodger.

Years and years ago, in my Junior year English class, we had to read Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. I absolutely hated it. It was long, dense, and (most damningly) boring. Who the hell cares about some dull orphan named Pip trying to become an early 19th century “gentleman?” Not to mention it’s impossible to take anyone named Pip seriously. Maybe the teacher wanted to sour me on Charles Dickens for years and years to come, or maybe I was just too lazy to dig into the dense book. Maybe I’d even appreciate the classic now? Who knows.

Regardless, Terry Pratchett liked Charles Dickens a whole lot more than I did (I think being English helps). This really shows in his 2009 novel, Dodger. After Sanderson and Watt-Evans both proved fairly disappointing reads, I figured I’d get back to some quality literature. You can’t go wrong with Terry Pratchett, right?

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Dodger is the story of, well, Dodger, an orphan in early Victorian London. Unlike Pip, Dodger is an actually interesting character. He’s clever, generous, and well connected to just about everyone on the street. He has to be, as in the first chapter, Dodger rescues a beautiful young woman from a beating, which naturally leads to further adventures. Along the way, Dodger crosses paths with Charles Dickens- along with other historical figures like Benjamin Disraeli and Angela Burdett-Coutts. Being an American, I had to look a lot of them up on Wikipedia. Still, the use of Charles Dickens reminded me of how Mark Twain sometimes shows up in books set in 19th century America.

Dodger isn’t as dense or as thoroughly researched as, say, The Flashman Papers or even the Captain Alatriste books, but Pratchett admits to this in his author notes at the end, describing the book as “historical fantasy.” Speaking of fantasy, Dodger is pretty much a Discworld novel without the disc. The way Pratchett writes London is pretty much the same way he writes Ankh-Morpork, just without any wizards or trolls or anything. This isn’t a bad thing; Pratchett is very, very good at writing Ankh-Morpork/London. Heck, Victorian London seems a bit fantastical just on its own, with currency names like “farthings” and “groats.”

There’s some minor structural differences between Dodger and a Discworld novel. I mean, Dodger has chapters! (This is kind of a big deal if you’re a Discworld fan). It’s also written primarily from Dodger’s point of view, as opposed to the way the POV in a Discworld novel tends to flick from one character to another. The plot is similar to a Discworld novel as well, in that it’s fairly light and straightforward. This, of course, allows Pratchett to focus on his wry English voice that is an absolute pleasure to read. As one would expect from a Pratchett novel, Dodger is hilarious- there’s a little joke at the end about a foul smelling dog that reduced me to a laughing/coughing fit. (I also have a cold, but it’s still a great joke).

I actually picked up Steelheart and Dodger at the same book sale some time ago. And if you wanted to, you could even pitch Dodger as a YA book. I mean, it’s got a teenage protagonist, a beautiful blonde he falls in love with, and even a horrible class-based dystopia setting. Sure, Victorian England didn’t arbitrarily pick kids to fight to the death for their amusement, but it was still a fairly shitty place to live for the majority of the population.

But here’s the thing. Dodger is actually a good book, where Steelheart isn’t. I’m being unfair, of course, comparing Sanderson to Pratchett. The biggest difference (apart from their respective skills as writers) is that Dodger is an active protagonist, who actually goes out and does stuff, whereas David in Steelheart mostly just blunders around from point A to point B whenever other characters tell him to.

So yeah. Dodger took a couple of chapters to really hook me, but once it did, I really enjoyed it. I’ll heartily recommend the book to, well, just about anyone. It’s even a great jumping on point for someone who’s never read Pratchett before. Dodger is a stand alone novel, one without the fantasy baggage or the 20-something books of loose continuity to worry about.

And wow, it’s December! I’m gonna have to try to cram in a couple more books to inflate my end of the year review count, see if I can beat last year’s total. I’ve at least got a couple of audio books to review, and I’ll no doubt read something else as soon as I get the time. And on top of THAT, if I get really ambitious, I may even have a CRIMMUS SPECIAL.

That spelling is intentional.

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