Dodger
By Terry Pratchett
Harper, 2012


Dodger is a historical/comedy novel set in Victorian London. It is fairly similar in tone to Pratchett's Discworld novels, although it is a bit less lighthearted and screwball, so a better comparison might be to his novel Nation.

Dodger makes his living as a tosher, a London low-life who scavenges the sewers for the small coins and trinkets that wash down the drains. He is a good tosher, and a respectable one, and also one who makes a good bit of coin on the side by unobtrusively taking valuable items from rich people's houses. But not too much or too often -- as I said, he's a respectable bloke.

The story starts one stormy day, when Dodger pops out of the sewers just in time to find a couple of gentlemen accosting a young lady and steps in to save her. Despite his rather grimy (to put it politely) appearance, he is allowed to accompany her to a safe haven in some wealthy nob's house, and by dint of persistent pushiness, he is allowed to return the following day. One unlikely event follows another, and Dodger quickly finds himself enmeshed in a web of political intrigue... a web that was not prepared for a sneak thief with an intimate knowledge of the London underground (both literally and figuratively).

Along the way, he meets an impressive cast of characters, including Charles Dickens, Henry Mayhew, Sir Robert Peel, Angela Burdett-Coutts, and Sweeney Todd. But peelers and homicidal barbers are the least of his worries -- in a surprisingly short time mysterious foreign powers have assassins gunning for both him and the nameless girl (who is called Simplicity for convenience's sake, and perhaps irony's sake as well).

This novel is more serious than some of Pratchett's novels, but it maintains a humorous tone throughout. It is somewhat reminiscent of the Discworld series, in large part because Ankh-Morpork was based on warped version of London, making the setting seem very familiar -- and of course, the thief-who-stumbles-into-heroism plot has made appearances in the Discworld more than once. However, the unusual amount of run-on sentences and run-on paragraphs gives this book a slower-paced, stuffier feel, rather appropriate to the historical period.

The historical novel aspect is fairly strong. Pratchett made a good attempt at keeping his London history true-to-fact, although he did fudge the dates on some people and events. I should note that it is only the setting that is historically accurate; the characters of Dodger and Simplicity are pure invention, as are their adventures.

All in all, a good read, and I recommend it generally to anyone who would like a period adventure with a good dose of humor.

Dodg"er (?), n.

1.

One who dodges or evades; one who plays fast and loose, or uses tricky devices.

Smart.

2.

A small handbill.

[U. S.]

3.

See Corndodger.

 

© Webster 1913.

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