Friday, November 9, 2012

An Artful Dodger

Yep, it's another Young Adult book; this time from prolific fantasy author Terry Pratchett. More and more popular adult authors are beginning to dip there toes into the young adult market. In this case, at least, the result is well worth reading.

The Basics
Pratchett, Terry. Dodger. New York: Harper, 2012. Print

Terry Pratchett hardly needs introduction, given his prolific Discworld series. Nor is Dodger Pratchett's first foray into the world of young adult fiction: he wrote several children's books in the 90s and a couple of his Discworld novels have been classed as YA.  Born in England in 1948, Pratchett got his start in writing as a journalist. This transitioned into writing novels, and eventually in 1983 the first Discworld novel was published. In 2008, Pratchett was knighted. Sadly, Sir Pratchett (now that's just fun to write) suffers from a rare form of Alzheimer's disease; he has contributed heavily to the Alzheimer's Research Trust.

The Book
Dodger is set in Victorian England and is a somewhat historical novel (naturally, it takes quite a few liberties).  On a stormy night, Dodger, the hero (though he'd vehemently deny it), rescues a young lady from two thugs. The young lady, Simplicity, had been badly beaten and sets off Dodger's quest to prevent her being forcibly returned to her abusive (and politically well-placed) husband and his family.

The book was a little slow to start, but once things get going, you'll be hooked. Dodger is a fun character, full of street smarts and a delightful juxtaposition of intelligence and ignorance. Readers get to watch Dodger change and grow, molding himself to his new circumstances as they shift and bettering himself for the sake of Simplicity. But this isn't just the story of a street rat being elevated above his original station. Dodger elevates himself, both intentionally and unintentionally. Moreover, he keeps those street savvy traits that help him excel and ultimately save his lady love.

There's also great fun to be had with the cast of historical figures used as characters: Charles Dickens, Benjamin Disraeli, Angela Burdett-Coutts, Robert Peel, Henry Mayhew. Being something of a Victorian nut, the appearance of these figures made me giggle with glee. And Pratchett uses them well. They flow into the story, becoming a believable part of it rather than a cheesy cameo that leaves readers thinking "Puh-lease." 

My favorite part of the book, however, had little to do with the actual story line and a whole lot to do with the appearance of one Charlie Dickens. I love Dickens; from Bleak House to A Christmas Carol, I love it all. Dickens' books are so ripe for literary analysis that I can hardly help myself. Pratchett clearly has a little Dickensian in him, too, because the novel is chock full of references. Some are blatant, but others are delightfully subtle references that only a well-read Dickensian would pick up on. Dodger himself is a reference to the artful Dodger of Oliver Twist. Then you've got the fog of Bleak House and so many more. They're fun to spot, and I loved it when Pratchett's Dickens would hear something and suddenly jot it down.

Dodger was a dense and well-crafted read that I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of. I'll probably reread it soon, just to see if I can spot more Dickens references. I know... I'm a nerd.



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