Author: Terry Pratchett
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Release Date: September 2012
Length: 360 pages
Series?: Dodger #1
Genre: Historical Fiction, YA
A storm. Rain-lashed city streets. A flash of lightning. A scruffy lad sees a girl leap desperately from a horse-drawn carriage in a vain attempt to escape her captors. Can the lad stand by and let her be caught again? Of course not, because he’s…Dodger.
Seventeen-year-old Dodger may be a street urchin, but he gleans a living from London’s sewers, and he knows a jewel when he sees one. He’s not about to let anything happen to the unknown girl–not even if her fate impacts some of the most powerful people in England.
From Dodger’s encounter with the mad barber Sweeney Todd to his meetings with the great writer Charles Dickens and the calculating politician Benjamin Disraeli, history and fantasy intertwine in a breathtaking account of adventure and mystery.
Beloved and bestselling author Sir Terry Pratchett combines high comedy with deep wisdom in this tale of an unexpected coming-of-age and one remarkable boy’s rise in a complex and fascinating world.
A late-night toshing of the sewers unexpectedly leads Dodger right into an encounter with some unsavory characters and simaltaneously rescuing a damsel in distress. This single act of scaring off assailants draws Dodger into a world that has ramications farther than he can fathom.
While he has changed the course of his own life, he also changes the life of the anonymous woman he rescued. A cast of do-gooders from the upper echelons of society, many of them true historical figures of the time, take charge of the situation to protect Dodger and this young woman named Simplicity. They use their wealth, connections, influence, and knowledge to keep Simplicity safe as danger encroaches again.
Along the way, Dodger continues to find himself – a typical eyesore of polite society – as the hero in a number of situations, including the resuce of Sweeeney Todd from his own demons. Thusly, he becomes the interest of Sir Robert Peel, head of police.
Dodger – a teen tosher of the London streets and sewers, given the title of “king of the toshers”
Simplicity – a mysterious and beautiful girl Dodger rescues in the streets, she has escaped from her abusive, royal husband
Solomon Cohen- Dodger’s housemate and unofficial (Jewish) guardian, an elderly craftsman, a Freemason
Onan – Solomon’s smelly dog, Dodger likes him
Charles Dickens- a journalist who understands the plight of the poor
Henry Mayhew – a friend of Dickens, he and his wife take care of Simplicity, he is interested in improving conditions for the poorer citizens of London
Angela Burdett-Coutts – an independent, wealthy woman destined to be single who uses her influence and excess to help those in need, she takes in Simplicity and protects her
Benjamin Disraeli – a young politician friend of Charlie’s, he helps play a role in the faking of Simplicity’s death
Sir Robert Peel – the head of London police, he is supportive of Simplicity’s wish to not be sent back to her husband
The Outlander – a wanted assassin with targets on Simplicity and Dodger, he looks different every time he commits a crime, always has the same woman at his side
Sweeney Todd – a current-day barber traumatised with PTSD from his Napoleonic War experiences who kills his customers, the reason Dodger becomes a national hero by disarming him
“Well, dear Mrs. Mayhew, I can promise you that there will not be any hanky panky because I do not know what panky is, and I’ve never hand a hanky. Only a handkerchief.”
The Highs and Lows
- Victorian era. I love reading historicals set in the Victorian era, but I always get the romanticized version on the opposite end of the spectrum. Or, at least a very rosy version of reality. I don’t think I’ve ever spent too much time truly looking through a different lens of the time. The socioeconomic statuses of the classes are highlighted heavily in this novel.
- + Humor. The witty and cunning nature of Dodger, and the humor of others throughout, had me giggling more than once.
- International Intrigue. Simplicity’s mysterious past brings about the true reason she was beaten in the streets, and why The Outlander is still after her and now Dodger as well. Dodger unwittingly walks into a problem thickened by international boundaries.
- Simplicity. We never learn her real name! After her “death,” she is given a new name: Serendipity, and it fits perfectly.
- – Instalove. While I can easily see why Dodger would fall in love with Simplicity, I don’t much see how or why it was reciprocated. There wasn’t anything alluring about Dodger and it didn’t seem Simplicity felt any rangef emotions whatsoever. I understand gratitude and gratefulness for her resuce, but I didn’t see this as a love match with real love. It seemed too easy to tie the ends up for Dodger and the “knight” to get the girl.
- + Historical Figures. Several have voiced their pleaseure or displeasure about having real historical figures of the time inserted in the novel. While I wasn’t aware that they all lived during the same time (you learn something new every day), I found it interesting and a touching nod of Pratchett to those he respected and revered by including them in one of his works, especially ones that espouse the sentiments of poverty that are the heart of the book.
- + The Dedication. Pratchett dedicated the novel in honor of the real Mayhew, who worked to shed the light on the poorest of London in his own book London Labour and the London Poor.
Many readers find it hard to read this novel separate from Pratchett’s Discworld novels, and I feel all his other writings are overshadowed by his famous 40-book series. While I never read a one of them, I enjoyed this one by Pratchett. It was different and englightening and still held the archetype of a knight in shining armor, rags-to-riches character and storyline.
Recommendation – Buy, Borrow or Skip?
I recommend reading! Buy or borrow.
Sir Terry Pratchett sold his first story when he was thirteen, which earned him enough money to buy a second-hand typewriter. His first novel, a humorous fantasy entitled The Carpet People, appeared in 1971 from the publisher Colin Smythe.
Terry worked for many years as a journalist and press officer, writing in his spare time and publishing a number of novels, including his first Discworld novel, The Color of Magic, in 1983. There are over 40 books in the Discworld series. The first of these, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, won the Carnegie Medal.
Regarded as one of the most significant contemporary English-language satirists, Pratchett has won numerous literary awards, was named an Officer of the British Empire “for services to literature” in 1998, and has received honorary doctorates from University of Warwick in 1999, the University of Portsmouth in 2001, the University of Bath in 2003, the University of Bristol in 2004, Buckinghamshire New University in 2008, the University of Dublin in 2008, Bradford University in 2009, University of Winchester in 2009, and The Open University in 2013 for his contribution to Public Service.
In 2007, Pratchett disclosed that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. In February 2009, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. He was awarded the World Fantasy Life Achievement Award in 2010. Sir Terry Pratchett passed away in March 2015.