London, 1840s. Seventeen-year-old Dodger is a ‘tosher’, scavenging in London’s old Roman sewers for a living. It is dark, dangerous and smelly work, but Dodger is nimble, quick-witted and knows exactly how to work the system. The law has never yet laid a finger on him, and he intends to keep it that way.
But when Dodger rescues a mysterious young lady from a murderous attack, things start to get difficult. The new Metropolitan Police gets involved; Charles Dickens of the Morning Chronicle scents a story and a dangerous foreign assassin comes to London. Dodger will have his work cut out to keep the lady safe, discover who she is, why the Foreign Office is taking an interest – and stay alive. Time is running out …
I loved this book. Pratchett’s writing is like a brilliant shower of golden nuggets, with nods to various Dickens novels, Mayhew’s London Life, Bazalgette’s dream of a new sewerage system, the astute millionaire Miss Burdett-Coutts, shopping in Savile row, the notorious Sweeney Todd, and scores of other contemporary references. There is a philosophical element, too, as Dodger works out what sort of man he wants to become. I have an MA in Victorian studies and all this, together with the lively Victorian low-life slang (though a few anachronistic ‘OKs’ crept in) hugely increased my enjoyment.
All the same, Pratchett understands that the story must be paramount, and it’s a cracker. I was hooked, frantically turning over the pages to see what was going to happen next, every now and then shrieking with laughter. It’s glorious mixture of inventiveness, fun and slightly massaged history. Pratchett insists that Dodger ‘is not an historical novel’. I suspect his definition is too proscriptive; I think it illuminates London’s Victorian underworld brilliantly. Dickens would have loved it. For 12+. Highly recommended.