My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Ahhh, Terry Pratchett is one of my most beloved authors and I do love his Discworld books which, I must confess, I thought this was going to be. Having borrowed a selection of Pratchett books from a village friend, I had assumed they were all Discworld novels. I found that ‘Strata’ wasn’t one but was the prototype that would bloom into the Discworld universe eventually. And then there’s ‘Dodger’ here which turns out to be an historical novel based around the possible ‘real life’ influences from which Charles Dickens created his much-loved characters.
I’m giving a certain amount of leeway here as I assume this is one of Pratchett’s books for younger readers (like his wonderful ‘Wee Free Men’) and therefore isn’t going to tackle themes which are too deep or dark. Nevertheless, it’s not awfully good. ‘Dodger’ is a book I could have lived my life without reading and it is certainly not a book I will feel the need to read again.
There’s nothing terrible about it per se – it’s a perfectly fine story and set of characters. The book is well written, of course. It’s just not up to the standard of Pratchett’s Discworld stories. I do find it hard to explain. You can’t accuse the author of being a one-trick pony because the Discworld stuff just doesn’t work like that. The genius of Pratchett’s universe is that it can tackle and parody just about anything in history, politics, culture or society, past of present. In effect, the novels (while still all being comic fantasy) take on completely different flavours. Furthermore, when you look at books like ‘Good Omens’ (admittedly co-authored with the brilliant Neil Gaiman) you can see Pratchett can be utterly hilarious away from his magical land. So why doesn’t ‘Dodger’ work?
Another intriguing aspect is that the setting for the novel is exactly the type that would lend itself to the humour and style of the Discworld books. Indeed, I was probably about thirty pages in before I realised this just wasn’t going to go where I thought it was and no beloved characters like Death or Granny Weatherwax were going to appear. Dickensian London is an ideal setting for a Discworld plot. So, even if this wasn’t to be, how come the humour just didn’t hit home? It’s not even that it is YA literature – ‘Wee Free Men’ is super!
I have no great conclusion to the conundrum. My only guess is that this just wasn’t a good one for Pratchett. It must have seemed inspired at the time – for all the above-mentioned reasons – but it just came out a dud. For me, neither the action of the plot, nor the development of the characters really impacted on me. The former lacked grit, the latter felt rushed and superficial.
The worst fear is that, just as I found with Douglas Adams and his Hitchhikers series, I might be coming to the end of a love affair with Terry Pratchett and his Discworld universe. I hope not, because I truly have adored the books. I certainly found ‘Witches Abroad’ both brilliant and funny last year. To find out, I’m just going to have to read some more of his books. But this time, I’ll make sure they are Discworld first.
Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Listen to his life story in interview with the BBC here.
His latest book is ‘Try not to Laugh’ and is a guide to memorising, revising and passing exams for students.
D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at email@example.com. Alternatively, he is available for one-to-one mentoring and runs a course on the psychology of writing.
Ken writes for a number of publications around the world. Past reviewer for Paste magazine, The Doughnut, E2D and United Airways, and currently reviews for Lancashire Life magazine and Northern Arts Review.