Friday, 10 January 2014

Terry Pratchett- Dodger

Dodger
Doubleday
Terry Pratchett
2012

“--one of the reasons I'm talking to you now is to tell you that whatever you may be planning, you must not break the law. Since I have just now stepped out of this room and any voice you may be hearing cannot possibly be mine, I must however point out to you that there are times when the law may be somewhat...flexible.”

When I first discovered the novels of Terry Pratchett I was (I think) thirteen-years-old, beginning with Truckers (the first book of The Bromeliad Trilogy), after which I devoured the Discworld series with vigorous aplomb. When I reached 16 I finally got a job, which meant I had enough money to buy each new novel by the author as and when they came out and power through them as quickly as I could. I'm not sure when it was, or why, that the magic somewhat faded. Perhaps through over-familiarity, perhaps even a decline in overall standards, but the prior magic of a new novel by my favourite author melted away to be replaced by merely a mental note to get around to it at some point.

Terry Pratchett's Dodger was released on the 25th of September.2012. I got it that Christmas as a present from my old dear mother, and about a year later I finally started reading it. Truth be told, I was somewhat apprehensive about how much I'd enjoy Pratchett's newest non-Discworld novel, thanks to the Victorian setting (which seemed to me like somewhat of a redundant gimmick when considering that Pratchett's last ten years of Discworld novels have basically done the same thing with the city of Ankh-Morpork), and thanks to my disdain for his last non-Disc book; Nation. The first few chapters, perhaps fifty-pages or so seemingly did little to change my mind, but at some point after this things clicked in to place enough to make me look back at my preconceptions and scoff.

The great bearded one himself.
Pratchett describes Dodger as a historical fantasy, using real historical figures (such as Charles Dickens, Benjamin Disraeli and others) as characters in his story set on the streets of Victorian London, starring the titular Dodger, who, it almost goes without saying, is Pratchett's version of Dickens' famous supporting act from Oliver Twist. It became quickly apparent, however, that Dodger is immediately recognisable as a very Pratchetian (yes I just made that up) character to his very core. The plot is a constantly evolving one full of mystery and intrigue, and I don't wish to spoil its development here, but it revolves around Dodger being thrust out of his comfort zone of poverty, dirty work and strange homeless people in to the world of London society as he becomes inadvertently caught up in a whirlwind of dangerous politics with international implications, after having a heroic moment saving an unfortunate random young lady from some vile miscreants on the street, then finding her not to be so random after all.

Pratchett adapts the satirical fantasy of his usual novels into a more realistic setting without much difficulty, taking real life historical aspects of poverty and corruption in the city and attacking or embracing them with his individually charismatic prose style, but, as I said before, it's something he's been doing for some time now (Discworld novels The Truth and Thud stand out for me as examples), so it was really down to the strength of the characters to make it stand out. It's for that reason, I think, that it took a while for me to really get in to Dodger, since Pratchett writes his character with measured depth, developing his personality and intelligence in relation to the developments of the plot. It's hard for me not to compare Pratchett's character to his Discworld versions, but Dodger is actually somewhat unique in his make-up, though many of the supporting cast are very recognisable; Sir Robert Peel, for example, is a a dead-on mash-up of Sam Vimes and The Patrician.

I'm not going to rave too much about this because it's far from a life changing tome or a unique genre-changing classic, and it's far from Terry Pratchett's best. What it is is a somewhat memorable young adult adventure novel that would probably make a very good blockbuster adaptation or TV drama, but isn't really anything more than a three star book. Pratchett does an admirable job of developing tension, suspense and plot mystery (though I wasn't much of a fan of the ending), and also writes one of his most affectionately understated romantic sub-plots, but I also noticed a suspicious lack of set-pieces; there are plenty of long- thoughtful conversations about the nature of poverty and fairness and all that, but, for a book with a plot revolving around international politics and espionage, Pratchett spends very little time outlining just what exactly is going on. As a result, the adventure aspects are undercooked for the sake of satirical philosophy, which I've read just too many times from this man's pen.

I don't give review scores, but if I did it'd be 3 stars.