By Terry Pratchett
Published by Doubleday
ISBN 978 0 385 61927 1
For his 50th novel, Terry Pratchett takes fans out of their comfort zone and gives them a novel like no other he has written. The only thing Dodger has in common with Pratchett's fantasy books is that it shows he is a supreme storyteller.
Seventeen-year-old Dodger is a street urchin in Victorian-era London. Bright, quick, skinny and oozing with street smarts, Dodger works as a "tosher", searching for jewellery and coins in the sewers.
Dodger knows the sewers like the back of his hand, and what he finds down there helps him get food and lodging, and keeps him just one step away from the law.
But one night, as London is awash with mud and driving rain, Dodger becomes an accidental hero. A badly beaten young woman falls out of a carriage racing along the street. Dodger rushes to help her, along with a few London gentlemen who just happen to be passing by. By chance, one of his fellow rescuers is a writer named Charles Dickens.
Only a novelist as confident as Pratchett would dare bring Dickens into a story that seems like the type of book that the great author himself went on to write.
Dickens' companion takes the young woman home, and Dodger is invited to visit her the following day.
Thus begins Dodger's rise up the social ladder. He is soon involved in events that take him well out of the sewers of London and into the houses and lives of people who might call themselves his betters.
But there is no one better than charming, sneaky and resourceful Dodger. He even turns to his own advantage a nearly fatal encounter with Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street, who murderously wields his razor.
As he enters the world of high society, what Dodger finds behind the closed doors of "respectable" Londoners is worse than anything he found in the sewers.
Every page of this new novel shows how the author's wit, love of language and sheer brilliance blend effortlessly with the story.
Victorian historical fiction is certainly thrives in the hands of the unique Pratchett. He brings the city to life and fills it with characters, both real and fictional, that Dickens himself would have loved.
Pratchett fans, both old and new, will warm to Dodger as he dodges and dives through and under the streets of London - all because his life was turned upside down for doing someone a good deed!
Dodger is a new hero on the block - let's hope we haven't seen the last of him.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com