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.
First off lets be clear, while this is by Terry Pratchett this is not a fantasy book. Discworld fans hoping for something in that vein will be disappointed. To be honest I’m not entirely sure what I’d class it as. Spin-off of a classic? Historical fiction? In reality its probably both. The titular character if not actually the Artful Dodger from Oliver Twist, is certainly based on him and a man by the names of Charlie Dickens who runs a newspaper and is concerned with the well being of the poor is one of the central characters. You can draw you own conclusions.
This is one of those books, which though I enjoyed it, I’m rather at a lose for what to say about it. If follows Dodger through the streets of Victorian London as he attempts to save the life of a girl thrown from a carriage. Along the way he meets a host of real and fictional characters of the period, including Charles (Charlie) Dickens, Sweeney Todd and even Queen Victoria. While as I’ve said its not fantasy, it is undeniably Pratchett. His characteristic sense of humour is there, finding its strongest voice through Solomon, Dodgers mentor/father figure (interestingly also Jewish, like Fagin Dodger’s “mentor” in Oliver Twist, though far more likable).
For a book clearly aimed at the younger end of the young adult market, it touches on a number of dark topics, most notably that of domestic violence. However it is so woven into the fabric of the tale, that it never feels depressing and you are hardly aware that Pratchett is in fact prodding you to think about such things. It is done with the skill of a true master.
All in all a fun read. And I certainly intend on reading more Pratchett, starting with Mort as I’ve enjoyed Death in the few other books by Pratchett I’ve read.