Saturday, September 10, 2016

Book Review: Dodger

Book Review: Dodger by Terry Pratchett

The Story: Dodger is a street youth whose simple life is turned upside down when he saves a young woman from being brutally beaten as she tries to escape her captors.  This kicks off a series of events in which Dodger finds himself embroiled with the likes of Henry Mayhew, Charles Dickens, Sweeney Todd, and the other denizens of historical London.  

The Good: Beautifully written from the perspective of Dodger himself with brilliant characterizations and painstakingly rendered historical details, ranging from the grinding poverty of the lower classes to the palaces and embassies of royalty.  

The Bad: While this is clearly a young adult book, it is not for the faint of heart.  In the opening scene, a teen girl is beaten so badly she miscarries her pregnancy and almost dies.  Pratchett pulls no punches when it comes to the plight of the lower classes of London, including the most vulnerable, children and the elderly.  

The Thoughts: The late great Sir Terry Pratchett has written what he terms "historical fantasy" and is entertaining and informative.  While Dickens, who appears as a character in the book, also portrayed poverty, I think Pratchett does it better. Pratchett, as always, excels in showing the humanity of his characters.  Even the poorest of the poor have a dogged loyalty to each other and a genuine generosity.  Pratchett upends a number of popular tropes with panache: put not your trust in princes, he assures us, for it is not among the poor where the real monsters are.  Through the eyes of Dodger we find pity for the desperate drunks and trauma-ridden veterans.  With Dodger we lash out at the powerful predators, though, curiously, Dodger has a reputation as a berserker, but carries out his revenges with thought and restraint.  The story's female characters (of which there are many and various) are written with depth and insight while maintaining the accuracy of their lesser societal roles. The book itself touches on both historical and current social issues with great-hearted empathy and perspective.

While my description may make the book sound like a moralistic historical treatise, the story itself is vibrant and fast moving, as is Dodger.

Favorite new word: "firkytoodle" p. 209

Favorite quote: "Everybody has got to believe in something; that's all it takes." p. 252

Five stars.

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