Named a 2013 ‘Michael L. Prinz Honor Book’ by YALSA, a ‘Kirkus Best Teen Novel for 2012’, and Booklist’s ‘The Top of the List winner for Youth Fiction’
UK hbk: Doubleday 13 September 2012 (978-0-385-61927-1)
Proofs: c. 120 copies
The standard main trade edition (first printing 77,000 copies plus 18,620 copies printed in Australia – with appropriate modifications) and the exclusive editions all have the same ISBN
Exclusive to Waterstones (20,000 copies) and Australia (500 copies) with special jacket and ‘The Wise Words of Solomon Cohen’ at end
Exclusive to W.H.Smith (30,000 copies) and Easons (3,000 copies), with bonus scene at end, Dodger goes to Bedlam to see Sweeney Todd. Both the same except for different stickers on jacket). A trade paperback for WHS was planned, with an ISBN 978-0-385-61928-8, but this was cancelled, and only the hbk was issued.
Exclusive to Tesco (25,000 copies), with post cards inside front cover
Exclusive to Asda (6,000 copies), with map of Dodger’s London at end
Exclusive to Waterstones (3,000 copies), specially bound, stamped & numbered, slipcased edition (978-0-857-53229-9). Waterstones also had a free sampler of the opening chapter
Pbk: B-format (with opening pages of Raising Steam, Corgi, 26 September 2013 (978-0-552-56314-7)
Pbk: (with the extra chapter ‘Old Comrades’, visiting Bedlam, Corgi, 26 September 2013 (978-0-552-56315-4)
Reissue: illustrations by Laura Ellen Anderson, Corgi, April 2019 (978-0-552-57720-5)
Large print hbk: ISIS, January 2013 (hbk: 978-0-7531-9150-7; pbk, 978-0-7531-9151-4)
USA: HarperCollins, 25 September 2012 (trade 078-9-06-200949-4; library 978-0-06-200950-0; e-book 978-0-06-219015-4)
Bound ‘galley proofs’: 2,887 copies [these were a straight reprint of the UK text, but the published edition was ‘gently’ Americanised…]
Pbk. Harper, 24 September 2013 (978-0-06-200951-7)
Library hbk of pbk: Turtleback, 2013 (978-0-606-32170-9)
Bulgarian: Arhont Vuzev
Czech: Filuta, trs. Jan Kantůrek, Talpress, 2016 (978-80-7197-621-9)
Finnish: Viemärin Valtias, trs. Mika Kivimäki, Karisto, July 2014 (978-951-23-5740-6)
French: Roublard, trs. Patrick Couton, L’Atalante, October 2013 (978-2-84172-650-9)
German: Dunkle halunken, trs. Andreas Brandhorst, ivi/Piper, 17 September 2013 (978-3-492-70301-7)
Double pbk volume containing Dodger and Dodger’s Guide to London, separately paginated: Piper, May 2017 (978-3-492-28065-5)
Hungarian: Cseles, trs. Veronika Farkas, Delta Vision, 9 May 2014 (978-615-5314-82-7)
Polish: Spryciarz z Londynu, trs. Maciej Szymański, Rebis, 2013 (978-83-7510-980-1)
Russian: Финт, trs. C. Aixachevou, Eksmo, 23 September 2015 (978-5-699-84214-8)
Spanish: Perillán, trs. Manu Viciano, Fantascy, July 2014 (978-84-15831-23-5)
Terry Pratchett presents
Dodger’s Guide to London
(with an especial interest in its underbelly . . . ) Based on original notes penned by Jack Dodger himself
With Sue Cook. Illustrated with contemporary illustrations, and drawings by Paul Kidby
UK Hbk: Doubleday 25 November 2013 (978-0-857-53324-1)
Issued in a standard illustrated green cover, and a special edition for WHSmith with a red cover and different cover illustration.
German: Jack Dodgers London Guide, trs. Andreas Brandhorst, Piper, 12 May 2014 (978-3-492-70331-4)
Double pbk volume containing Dodger and Dodger’s Guide to London, separately paginated: Piper, May 2017 (978-3-492-28065-5)
Children’s Book of the Week
Dodger is a hero who Dickens would love
According to a recent survey, the classic most parents want their child to read is A Christmas Carol. If Dickens seems too hard to tackle, then Terry Pratchett’s Dodger is just the thing.
Pratchett’s wit, linguistic brilliance and narrative brio are still undervalued by many. This story, inspired by Oliver Twist, is a glorious place to start. It opens as Dodger saves a young woman from death at the hands of thugs on a night of filthy rain, and meets Dickens and Henry Mayhew. Young, skinny, clever and quick, Dodger is a ‘tosher’, panning for lost money in the sewers. He is also not above a bit of thievery, much to the disapproval of his friend Solomon, a kindly old Jewish man who is the obverse of Fagin. Everybody who is nobody knows Dodger; anyone who is anybody doesn’t. However, his rescue of the mysterious ‘Simplicity’ triggers international attention.
But how is he to keep ‘Simplicity’ from her murderous husband, especially with an assassin on her tail? Pratchett has kept millions of boys reading, and here, without resorting to magic, he uses his power as wisely as old Solomon to show how good defeats evil.
You can’t help loving dodger as he ducks, dives, falls in love and rises in the Victorian world. This is a hero I can’t wait to meet again. Amanda Craig, in The Times
Children’s Book of the Week
In Oliver Twist, the Artful Dodger is an ill-favoured youngster with few saving graces; it was Lionel Bart, not Dickens, who invented the cheeky chappie. Pratchett’s Dodger is a charmer in the Bart mould: a “tosher”, gleaning lost valuables from London’s sewers, and living with a kind and learned Jew called Solomon (unlike Fagin, the child-corrupter who deserves the noose). Interweaving fictional and historical characters – such as Benjamin Disraeli, Robert Peel and the philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts – Pratchett has Dickens himself reporting Dodger’s adventures in the Morning Chronicle, including his encounter with Sweeney Todd, a sad man damaged by war.The result is masterly and entertaining. Nicolette Jones, in The Sunday Times
Pratchett leaves Discworld to bring us something that is quite nearly—but not exactly—actual historical fiction.
Dodger is a guttersnipe and a tosher (a glossary would not have been amiss to help readers navigate the many archaic terms, although most are defined in the text, often humorously). He knows everyone, and everyone knows him, and he’s a petty criminal but also (generally) one of the good guys. One night he rescues a beautiful young woman and finds himself hobnobbing quite literally with the likes of Charlie Dickens (yes, that Dickens) and Ben Disraeli. The young woman is fleeing from an abusive husband and has been beaten until she miscarried; power and abuse are explored sensitively but deliberately throughout. And when he attempts to smarten himself up to impress the damsel in distress, he unexpectedly comes face to face with—and disarms!—Sweeney Todd. As Dodger rises, he continuously grapples with something Charlie has said: “the truth is a fog.” Happily, the only fog here is that of Dodger’s London, and the truth is quite clear: Historical fiction in the hands of the inimitable Sir Terry brings the sights and the smells (most certainly the smells) of Old London wonderfully to life, in no small part due to the masterful third-person narration that adopts Dodger’s voice with utmost conviction.
Unexpected, drily funny and full of the pathos and wonder of life: Don’t miss it. (Historical fiction 12 & up)
*This superb novel from Pratchett is relatively subdued in its humor and contains virtually no fantasy, beyond a flavoring of early Victorian alternate history. It’s not only a fine Dickensian novel–Dickens himself figures prominently. It follows a sewer-scouring “tosher” and thief named Dodger, “a skinny young man who moved with the speed of a snake,” who, like a knight in soiled armor, leaps out of a drain one night to protect a young woman who is being severely beaten. Two of London’s most famous figures, Charles Dickens and social reformer Henry Mayhew, appear on the scene a moment later. A complex plot gradually unravels involving the identity of the mystery girl, known only as Simplicity, and the reasons someone powerful wants her dead. Making guest appearances are such luminaries as Benjamin Disraeli, Queen Victoria, and Angela Burdett-Coutts, the richest woman in the world at the time. Full of eccentric characters and carefully detailed London scenes, the tale embodies both Dickens’s love for the common man and a fierce desire for social justice. Ages 13–up. Agent: Colin Smythe. (Oct.) Publishers Weekly
*On a stormy night in early Victorian London, an able young man named Dodger rises from the sewers in response to a scream, beats off two thugs, and rescues a damsel in distress. Dodger continues to rise throughout the novel, as his love for the mysterious lady motivates this tosher (scavenger for lost coins and other treasures in London’s sewers) to elevate himself and leads him to a closer acquaintance with a string of historical figures, including Dickens, Disraeli, and ultimately, the queen and her consort. While most writers would be well advised not to include such characters in their books, Pratchett manages to humanize them without diminishing them or throwing the story off-kilter. However lowly Dodger’s origins, he remains the most memorable character in the book. Living by his wits and unencumbered by conventional morality, this trickster hero expertly navigates underbelly of his city as he carries out a bizarre scheme resulting in justice and mercy. The temptation to quote sentences, whole paragraphs, and possibly entire chapters is almost irresistible, because the pleasure of reading the novel is in the language as much as the characters and well-researched period setting. Often amusing, this Victorian romp of a novel is lovingly crafted and completely enjoyable. —Carolyn Phelan, starred review, ALA Booklist
* Who would have the skill, the sensibility, and the sass to put Charles Dickens into a novel and then proceed to write that novel in full-octane Dickensian style? Terry Pratchett, of course. Like his namesake in Oliver Twist, Dodger is a street urchin (“if you wanted to be a successful urchin you needed to study how to urch”) who makes his way in early-Victorian London as a tosher, a sewer gleaner. One rainy night he gallantly rescues a young woman who is being beaten up, and a complicated plot is set in motion. The cast includes Dickens, minor European royalty, Disraeli, Sweeney Todd, Charles Babbage, a philanthropist named Angela Burdett-Coutts (who alone is worth the price of admission), and Queen Victoria herself—but none of them upstages Dodger, a young man on the make and on the brink, with his own highly developed moral code. His original take on the world and his deft way with language make him a wonderful guide through sewers, morgues, theaters, drawing rooms, pea-soup fogs, and barbershops and a story of espionage, romance, action, skullduggery, double-dealing, and heroism. It’s a glittering conjuring act, but there’s real heart here, too, as Dodger’s horizons expand to include nature, art, and love. The Horn Book Magazine
The maestro has left Discworld for his second novel of the year and the squillionth of his career, swapping Ankh-Morpork for the possibly even danker and ranker world of early-Victorian London in one of three London-based fantasies reviewed here.
Our Dickensian heroes are Dodger – a scavenger in Victorian London’s noisome sewers – and Dickens himself .
One dark and stormy night, they come to the rescue of a beautiful, golden-haired girl, who’s trying to escape the violent clutches of her abusive husband and his dastardly henchmen.
Dodger climbs out of the gutter and smartens himself up because he’s fallen in love with the mysterious victim and is set on finding and punching the daylights out of the culprits.
Also featuring Sweeney Todd, Benjamin Disraeli and Sir Tel’s pitch-perfect chirpiness. Wonderful.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/books/article-199236/FANTASY.html#ixzz263U9wbAG
Also in The Sun
Terry Pratchett visits Victorian London for his latest children’s book.
Dodger, a young sewer scavenger, sees a girl escaping from a coach and saves her from being beaten by the two men she was travelling with. This incident is witnessed by Charles Dickens, ‘Charlie’, who becomes a friend to Dodger, and social reformer Henry Mayhew, who shelters Simplicity, as the girl comes to be known. Several events increase Dodger’s notoriety, including his exposing the truth about Sweeney Todd, and he finds himself moving in loftier circles. He also discovers that there are people after Simplicity and an ingenious plan is needed to thwart them – an ideal job for someone like Dodger…
Pratchett brings the atmosphere of his London to life, conveying not just the difficulties faced by his characters through poverty, but also the ways they might survive (or not – his portrayal of Sweeney Todd as a damaged individual is especially vivid). The plot of Dodger doesn’t quite succeed: the antagonists remain too shadowy to have a full dramatic impact. But running through the novel are themes of pragmatism and appearances being deceptive, and here Dodger shines. Charlie understands that Dodger may be able to investigate events in ways which are valuable but not open to others. Dodger himself sees the manoeuvres of politics as not being much different from those of the street. And deceptive appearances are the foundation of the plan to save Simplicity, which gives Pratchett’s novel its fine finale.
We Love this Book, June 2012
Yes, that is “Dodger” as in “Artful”. The central conceit of Terry Pratchett’s atmospheric if somewhat aimless Victorian fantasy is that there was a real-life model for the scallywag pickpocket of Oliver Twist. Although not above a bit of thieving, this Dodger is primarily a tosher — a seeker of lost valuables in London’s Roman sewers — and largely untarnished by the filth around him. We first meet him, as do Charles Dickens and the poverty campaigner Henry Mayhew, when he saves a pregnant mystery woman from being beaten to death.
With the help of the two older men, he resolves to track down her assailants and save her from further harm. This quest brings him into contact with Sweeney Todd, Sir Robert Peel, Benjamin Disraeli and wealthy philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts. He even takes Joseph Bazalgette on a toshing tour, which inspires the young engineer to build London’s first modern sewage network.
Let’s pause and note how slyly Pratchett disses Dickens, suggesting he later traduced Dodger, and the lad’s noble Jewish mentor Solomon, by writing them up as villains, albeit likeable ones. His own aim is similar to Dickens’s, to entertain while highlighting the extreme gulf between rich and poor in Victorian London. Pratchett now suffers from Alzheimer’s but on this evidence it has not dulled his larky spirit or his descriptive powers.
The book is written in a picturesque, rhythmically involving version of Victorian dialect which the author cheerfully admits is, like much of the book, not strictly historically plausible. He’s good on the underclass world, taking as read the usual parade of whores and footpads and drunks and instead filling in details of shonky shops and the damaged soldiers of Wellington’s wars. The sheer stink of the street is powerfully evoked: the fragrant drawing rooms of the wealthy less so. Most of the characters are coated in a film of sentiment.
But narratively, Pratchett is here no match for Dickens, or even for his own Discworld stories. The mystery girl nominally adds romance and political intrigue but really she is just a red herring to drive Dodger up through the social strata. Pratchett quite often gets carried away on riffs about toshing, or Dodger’s first sight of a flush toilet, or his rambling chats with Solomon, and has to remind himself to get back to the plot. And the story quickly becomes repetitive, as our hero crashes through yet another social barrier, or gets the better of yet another dodgy geezer. The final chapters feel rushed and sketchy but they leave the door open for a sequel featuring Dodger, the Victorian secret agent.
Nick Curtis in The Evening Standard
Terry Pratchett’s latest novel, Dodger, isn’t a Discworld book, except, well, it kind of is. Nominally, this is an historical novel, a fictionalized account of the fictionalized person who inspired Mr Charlie Dickens to create his much-beloved character The Artful Dodger. But as the story unfolds, the parallels between the early Victorian London of Dickens (and Mayhew) and the Ankh-Morpork of Pratchett’s Discworld novels become sharper and clearer, so that by the end, we’re reading a story that really could be set in either one of those fantastical places, and what’s more, there’s a kind of vividness to Dodger that comes, I think, from its proximity to the origin of Pratchett’s inspiration, a cask-strength version of what makes Pratchett so addictive and so loved.
Dodger tells the story of a young street-urchin, a “geezer” who is known throughout the tenements of central London as a dashing and fearless character. Dodger is a “tosher,” a young man who scrounges in the sewers of London for coins and jewels and little bits and pieces that wash up, and he worships the Lady, a deity descended from the Roman goddess Cloacina, the patron of the sewers the Romans carved out beneath Londinium. He is fearless, noble, but also lightfingered, with a cheeky propensity for making off with anything that isn’t nailed down or buttoned firmly in a gentleman’s coat-pocket.
Dodger starts one night in the sewers, when Dodger hears the cries of a woman in distress from above. While in Discworld, this distress might be hinted at and painted in vague, impressionistic strokes, here it is as vivid as Dickens: the woman whose rescue Dodger leaps to is being horribly beaten by a gang of thugs, whom Dodger lashes out at, dealing out fast and furious blows until they run off. As he tends to the woman, he meets Charlie Dickens and Henry Mayhew, the first of two historical personages to make an appearance in the pages of Dodger (others include Queen Victoria, Benjamin Disraeli, and Sweeney Todd).
So begins the story of Dodger’s coming of age. He and the woman he rescues fall in love, but the men who hunted her are still chasing after her, driven by a great imperial house of Europe whose king would see her dead. Against this backdrop, Dodger must both beat the assassins and thugs on his trail, and also find his true love’s way clear of the deadly intrigue, all the while mixing in the alien environs of high society — and journalistic circles — whom he is introduced to by Dickens.
Dodger features some of Pratchett’s most engaging characters yet — which is saying something! — inasmuch as these people are allowed to experience and react to the mercilessly cruel world of Victorian London, which Pratchett is fearless about describing. This isn’t a book for the squeamish, but then, neither is Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor, which Pratchett describes as the genesis for this novel in an author’s afterword.
Which is not to say that Dodger lacks the humor that makes Pratchett so beloved. This is a book that is every bit as funny as any Discworld novel, and includes Pratchett’s signature trick of hiding the gravity of the world in absurdity, a very serious pill wrapped up in a fluffy, sweet confection.
What’s more, Dodger features the most satisfying climax and denouement of any Pratchett novel of my recollection, a thunderous final chord that lingers and stretches. It’s a masterwork from a treasure and hero of a writer, and it will delight you. Cory Doctorow in boingboing http://boingboing.net/2012/10/11/pratchetts-dodger.html
There’s a moment as a reader, not often enough felt, when you sigh comfortably and relax, because you know you’re in good hands. Such a moment occurs commendably near the start of Dodger – in fact, in the very first chapter title, in which the author teases us with the notion that he is going to introduce one of the greatest British novelists to one of his best-loved fictional creations. Can it be true? Yes, for here in the opening pages of the novel, Dickens himself, known as Mister Charlie, encounters a young man known only as Dodger, as the scallywag rescues a damsel in distress from the brutal clutches of her foul husband’s henchmen.
A move such as this is the hallmark of a confident writer; it takes not only daring to do it, but skill, and from the first exchanges between the pair, you know it’s going to work.
The girl, known only as Simplicity, has escaped the torment of her loveless marriage to an unknown nobleman ‘from one of the Germanys’, but she remains in mortal peril. Dodger and Mister Charlie agree that they are best placed to safeguard her life. In doing so, Dodger inadvertently begins to rise up the ladder of Victorian society ‘faster than a chimpanzee’.
Though the plot of the novel is relatively simple, there is as much pleasure in seeing Dodger charm, sneak and sometimes bash his way in and out of a series of dark and dangerous encounters as he seeks to protect Simplicity, as there is in reading Pratchett’s prose. Here, once again, is the mark of a great writer; that we are captivated by ingenious word-building on every page.
In the author’s note, Pratchett admits that this is a work not of historical fiction but of historical fantasy. Yet it’s founded on the well-known fact that Dickens based many of his characters on the weird and wonderful people he encountered, particularly during his less than fortunate upbringing.
So, along with Dodger we meet his Jewish jeweller landlord Solomon, modelled on ‘Ikey’ Solomon, widely held to be Dickens’s inspiration for Fagin. Appearances are also made by young “Ben” Disraeli, Joseph Bazalgette and Henry Mayhew, whose groundbreaking work London Labour and the London Poor Pratchett acknowledges as the foundation of his novel; perhaps one could say the sewer that runs underneath it, for the dark and malodorously fluid subterranean life of Victorian London forms a major part of the book.
Prachett’s game-playing abounds; he introduces Sweeney Todd to the story, gleefully paying no heed to the twin facts that the Demon Barber is not only fictional but hadn’t even been written at the time. There are some lovely jokes surrounding Dickens. When Dodger worries that Simplicity will be shut up in some bleak house, we can almost see Mister Charlie snatch his notebook from his pocket and fumble for a pencil, with that faraway look writers get once in a while. And then there’s the name of Solomon’s dog. At this point, your open-mouthed reviewer found himself thinking, no, he can’t have called it that – surely the editor would have taken it out. Perhaps it only survived redrafts through naivety in the editorial department, and yet, upon my word, here’s the author in the closing pages inviting us to google what Onan means …
As Dodger’s triumphant path ultimately brings him honour from the very highest rank of society, we cannot help but cheer not only for his success, but also for the success of this ebullient, funny and delightful novel.
Marcus Sedgwick, The Guardian
Some writers simply possess the Gift. No matter what they bring out, whether masterpiece or misfire, it’s sure to be compulsively readable. That’s certainly the case with Terry Pratchett — technically Sir Terry Pratchett — whose latest novel, “Dodger,” takes its inspiration from Charles Dickens’s 19th-century London.
For many years now, Pratchett has been best known for his Discworld novels, comic fantasies with serious undertones set on a planet much like Earth, but where civilization resembles something out of sword-and-sorcery epic combined with steampunk. On the Discworld, witches and sorcerers and charming villains work their wiles; the skinny but tough Cohen the Barbarian fights on into his 90s; and Death — who always speaks in small-capital letters — is a weary, almost noble figure, who at one point takes a vacation and allocates his sad duties to an understudy named Mort.
Most of the Discworld novels skewer familiar cultural institutions, whether journalism (“The Truth”), religion (“Small Gods”) or Hollywood (“Moving Pictures”). Like many other satirists, Pratchett is also a not-so-secret moralist, critical of all ideologies and accepting of our usual human failings in this strange mixed affair we call life. As the Omnian religion reminds us: “We are here, and it is now.”
While virtually anything by Pratchett can be enjoyed by an intelligent teenager, he has also written middle-reader children’s books, some set in the Discworld, such as “The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents” (winner of the 2001 Carnegie Medal), and a series of young-adult adventures centered on a teenage witch named Tiffany Aching, who is frequently assisted by a Lilliputian cohort known as the Wee Free Men. “Nation” — Pratchett’s most ambitious YA novel, a meditation on the individual and society set against a backdrop that resembles that of “Lord of the Flies” — takes place on what is meant to be a just slightly alternate 19th-century Earth.
Such is the case, too, for “Dodger,” which borrows the Artful Dodger from “Oliver Twist” and transforms him into an unlikely hero, a lad who prospers in surprising ways, if not quite in those that would win the approval of Horatio Alger Jr.
Dodger, who is about 17 when the book begins, lives entirely by his wits in a rough-and-tumble London, chockablock with thieves, prostitutes, beggars and outcasts. He earns his bed and board by roaming the sewers, unearthing valuables that have been swept down the city’s drains. As a “tosher” — the name for such sewer rats — he is the best there is, knowing the underground drainage system and such subterranean locations as the Maelstrom, the Queen’s Bedroom, the Golden Maze and Breathe Easy as well as hackney cab drivers know the above-ground streets and intersections.
“Dodger” opens dramatically, on a rain-swept night:
“A fancy two-horse coach wallowed its way along the street, some piece of metal stuck near an axle causing it to be heralded by a scream. And indeed there was a scream, a human scream this time, as the coach door was flung open and a figure tumbled out into the gushing gutter. . . . Two other figures sprang from the coach, cursing in language that was as colorful as the night was dark and even dirtier. In the downpour, fitfully lit by the lightning, the first figure tried to escape but tripped, fell, and was leaped upon, with a cry that was hardly to be heard in all the racket, but which was almost supernaturally counterpointed by the grinding of iron, as a drain cover nearby was pushed open to reveal a struggling and skinny young man who moved with the speed of a snake.
“ ‘You let that girl alone!’ he shouted.”
After Dodger succeeds in driving off the ruffians, he is suddenly accosted by two gentlemen, one named Charlie and the other Henry. The three help the young lady — blond, blue-eyed, slightly foreign in air — and take her to a place of safety, the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Mayhew.
Charlie, no surprise, turns out to be a scribbling newspaperman named Dickens, while Henry Mayhew is none other than the now-celebrated compiler of that vast compendium of 19th-century reportage, “London Labour and the London Poor.” Some readers may recall that I reviewed an abridgement of this huge tome last year — it is, in effect, the great source bible for novelists and historians of the Victorian underclass. Pratchett dedicates “Dodger” to the actual Mayhew.
In due course, Charlie Dickens recruits Dodger to look into the mystery of the beautiful young lady and the reasons for her kidnapping. As the story proceeds, we meet our hero’s mentor, Solomon Cohen, an admirably learned and kindly version of Fagin, and encounter the rising young politician Benjamin Disraeli; the richest (and possibly shrewdest) woman in England, Miss Angela Burdett-Coutts; the artist John Tenniel; Sir Robert Peel, founder of the London police force; and several other figures familiar from history. In one chapter, Dodger nearly loses his life to none other than Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
Pratchett keeps the action rattling along as it gradually grows clear that the abused young woman, known only as Simplicity, is a counter in a deadly game of international politics. To be rid of her permanently, an unnamed power — though pretty obviously Prussia — is willing to do anything, even employ Europe’s most ruthless assassin, the Outlander.
While the tone of “Dodger” might be called more rumbustious than comic, there is an ongoing gag about Dickens. Whenever Dodger uses a phrase like “great expectations” or “bleak house,” Charlie says, “Excuse me,” pulls out a notebook and makes a note of it. Similarly, Solomon Cohen, who seems to have fled persecution from virtually every European country, repeatedly mentions a long-lost friend who always insisted that one day, the old order would be swept away. Whatever happened, Solomon often wonders, to the heavily bearded Karl . . . ?
While Pratchett is generally known for his similes, they are, alas, in short supply here. Still, when Solomon and Dodger visit some Turkish baths, they step “into a huge room which looked rather like Hell would look if it had been designed by somebody who thought people deserved another chance.” When Dodger happens upon his mentor dressed for a special dinner, he is “confronted by Solomon arrayed in all his glory.”
“Dodger,” with its colorful background and zesty period language, should appeal to almost any young reader, yet ultimately the book feels talky, slightly padded and lacking in big surprises. Simplicity, in particular, never quite comes alive as a character. Throughout, Pratchett’s focus is resolutely on Dodger — the growth of his soul, the renewed purpose that love gives to his life, the eventual discovery of a vocation. The resulting novel is certainly enjoyable — Sir Terry, after all, does have the Gift — but it lacks the intricate plot twists and snap of Pratchett’s finest work.
Michael Dirda, in The Washington Post
TERRY Pratchett fans will happily read anything the prolific fantasy humorist writes, but even so, it’s great when he comes up with a story that’s not affiliated to many of the long-running Discworld story threads, and stands – very confidently – on its own.
This narrative tells the story of the eponymous “tosher” (a street kid who scavenges in the sewers of Dickensian London, hoping to find lost change and other trinkets on which to subsist).
Dodger is a capable lad with a decent support system – rare in his trade – but even he is thrown off balance when he is involved in an incident concerning a young woman being set upon by thugs.
Ultimately sorting out the issue requires a complete re-ordering of Dodger’s world. He is helped along the way – a clever conceit – by the very man who gave his name to the milieu in which all the characters exist, Charles Dickens.
Pratchett’s affection and respect for his predecessor’s craft is evident, with many of the descriptions and phrases in this modern book being the equal of Dickens’s work in his many literary classics. Bruce Dennill, in The Citizen (South Africa)
Review of the audiobook
The setting is old London in the reign of Victoria. And our hero is 17-year-old Dodger. Dodger is a “tosher,” a boy who makes a meager living roaming the sewers under London’s streets searching for coins and treasures. One rain-soaked night he rescues a mysterious young woman from the clutches of deadly thugs. With the help of historical figures such as Charles Dickens and Benjamin Disraeli, the horse-drawn, gas-lit world of early Victorian London opens up to the listener. As always, longtime Pratchett narrator Stephen Briggs accentuates the tongue-turning phrases, gentle humor, and wide-eyed wonder of Pratchett’s writing. Pratchett appropriately calls this departure from his widely popular Discworld series a historical fantasy that mixes the oftentimes bleak facts of orphans and child labor with the magic of storybook endings. Briggs’s voice reflects this literary hybrid perfectly. B.P. 2013 Audies Finalist © AudioFile 2012, Portland, Maine
Background illustration © and by courtesy of Paul Kidby