Bane of Kings offers his thoughts on Terry Pratchett’s latest novel for young adults, Dodger, published by Doubleday in the UK.
“An interesting, humorous take on Dickensian London, that despite its flaws, proves to be an enjoyable read.” ~The Founding Fields
After having mixed feelings about The Long Earth, which was Pratchett’s collaboration effort with Steven Baxter, I figured that I’d give the author another try when I saw Dodger practically half price in a local supermarket. After all, with that many novels released by Pratchett, I was sure to find something that I liked more than The Long Earth, right?
As it turns out, it’s still the same here. Whilst Dodger may have some great things about it that I enjoyed, other elements left me feeling rather flat. I’ll be picking up another Pratchett novel though, most likely one of his earlier Discworld books, for I have been assured that his writing is a lot stronger there than in his more recent offerings.
Dodger is a tosher – a sewer scavenger living in the squalor of Dickensian London.
Everyone who is nobody knows Dodger. Anyone who is anybody doesn’t.
But when he rescues a young girl from a beating, suddenly everybody wants to know him.
And Dodger’s tale of skulduggery, dark plans and even darker deeds begins . . .
Let’s kick things off with what I liked. Pratchett possesses a humorous writing style that although may not have many laugh out loud moments, there are still some entertaining elements to be found in Dodger. The majority of the characters are strong as well, Dodger is memorable and can be rooted for. Pratchett’s strength also lies in portraying already established historical characters. His portrayal of Charles Dickens was one of the highlights of the novel for me, and other notable mentions are characters such as Sweeney Todd (fictional) and Benjamin Disraeli (real), and even Queen Victoria herself. The characters were stand-out element of the story for me, and Pratchett is hitting fine form with them in this novel.
Although Dodger may not be exactly historical fiction, it’s pretty close. Pratchett, as far as I’m aware, gets historical elements of the storyline accurate and there aren’t any glaring mistakes to be found within the pages. The plot is simple and enjoyable, and the pace moves along well enough to keep the reader turning the pages, but not as fast as I would have liked – there are some parts of the novel that unfortunately drag out.
Another thing that I enjoyed about Dodger was that Pratchett captures the gritty reality of what life was like growing up on the streets in that period as well as managing to keep the novel suitable for young adults to read. Dodger brings an enjoyable approach to the tale with the strong third person perspective. But the book’s not perfect though, and I do have some key issues with the book, which is unfortunate, as I wanted to love this.
First of all, the girl mentioned in the blurb is somebody that I thought could have been portrayed better as a character. Known only as Simplicity, her character is flat, forgettable, stereotypical and dull. She’s Dodger’s “reward”, if you will. Her full name isn’t even mentioned, we’re just reduced to her being labelled as Simplicity. This is one of the areas that Pratchett could have improved upon in Dodger, but he didn’t – so the book suffers as a result. Also, characters unfamiliar with this period may have missed tons of historical references to the characters and Dickens’ work, and that was where I felt that Dodger could have really benefited from perhaps a dramatis personae at the beginning of the book and maybe even a glossary of terms as well. I’m pretty sure that despite my knowledge of Victorian-era London from an in-depth study in College last year, I think there are still a few references that I missed as well.
Pratchett manages to make Dodger a compelling enough read and there are many people who will be able to read it and not care for the issues that I had with it above. I’ve seen a few five-star reviews for this book on Goodreads, and a few positive reviews for it elsewhere. But I’m afraid I’m going to have to give this novel the same verdict as I gave The Long Earth. It isn’t any more enjoyable than Pratchett and Baxter’s co-produced effort despite Pratchett working on his own, but it’s still better than some novels that I’ve read.