Dodger, by Terry Pratchett – a review

I don’t think I have ever mentioned my love of all things Terry Pratchett on this blog before. The reason, I think, is because I read far too many of his books, and if I started doing reviews of all the Discworld books that is all this blog would contain (and I mostly feel the same way about all of them, so that would get boring really quickly). Dodger, however, is not a Discworld book, and thus I can feel pretty secure in reviewing it without then having  review a thousand others.

Dodger is a young adult novel set in Dickensian London, in the first quarter of Victoria’s reign. Dodger, our hero, is a tosher – someone who roots about in the sewers, searching for lost coins and jewellery. He emphatically does not have a heart of gold, but he doesn’t like to see people getting bullied, and after he saves a young woman’s life he becomes known as a hero.

I loved reading this book, in part because it is one of those lovely historical fantasies where everyone who is interesting in an era will be there (even some people who may not have existed). Dodger quickly meets, for example, Charles Dickens and Henry Mayhew – whose work documenting the lives of the Victorian poor seems to have inspired this book – Sweeney Todd and Sir Robert Peel, among others. It might not be historically accurate, but it’s an excellent taster of the era.

Where Terry Pratchett always shines is in showing a social situation and pointing out the flaws in a traditional narrative. In this story, for example, instead of the villainous Fagin we are presented with Dodger’s mentor Solomon Cohen, a Jewish man who has been forced to travel the world as he was pushed out of country after country, and who has learned to live as quietly as possible . At the same time, Charlie (Charles Dickens) is not shown as a fool, or as a person with an agenda – but he explains to Dodger that the public want angelic street boys and ‘orrible murders, and that’s what he will have to give them.

This was, in all, an interesting read, a good introduction to the early Victorian era in London, and definitely a good book for any young person (or older person) you would like to grow into a Terry Pratchett fan.