Read Recently — January 2014 — Kids’ Books

Eight Days of Luke by Diana Wynne Jones

A re-read. Mentioned here. No changes.

Recommended.

Dodger by Terry Pratchett

London, England, the 19th century. It is a dark and stormy night. A badly beaten young woman escapes from a coach into the water-logged streets, pursued by two angry men. They, however, are quickly driven off by the brass-knuckle-equipped figure of one Dodger, a tosher (one who works in the sewers, sifting through trash for items of value [it’s worth noting, as it is noted in the story, that at this point in time the London sewers are mainly for storm and river run-off, and most human waste goes into cisterns from which it is carted off by “honey-wagons”. People are only just beginning to take advantage of the sewers by linking up their tanks to them, so things down below are not as foul as they will eventually become]). With the help of a couple of flash coves, one a writer named Charlie (hmmm) and the other Henry Mayhew, Dodger strikes a deal that will allow him to help the unfortunate girl: Mayhew will take the girl into his house, where his wife and staff will look after her until she is healed, while Charlie will pay Dodger to try to find the men who he drove off and whoever is behind them (the owner of the coach, presumably).

And then Dodger is off into the Underworld of London (sometimes, literally), with a cast of colourful and often charming characters, including Solomon Cohen, in effect Dodger’s landlord, mentor, and friend, and his dog Onan (there’s a joke in that, but I never actually got it), and, well, Dodger claims to know everyone and everyone knows him and it’s hard for me to argue with him because he interacts with a lot of people, many of them highly placed indeed, before the book ends.

So Dodger goes out hunting for the bad guys, who are not afraid to hunt back. His main clue is the coach, which had a crest on it that he didn’t see very well, but also had a damaged wheel that made a recognizable noise that he is sure he will know if he hears it again. His own status lets him in to the lower classes, and Charlie’s help gets him in with the middle and upper classes. We learn a lot about Victorian London here, and I already knew a fair bit but there were some surprises here for me.

In many ways, this reads like a Discworld “Guards” novel that somehow jumped universes; the same kind of city-building that Pratchett normally puts into Ankh-Morpork is here; the same love of that great ancient place that, here, just happens to be a real place (or almost real; Pratchett has tweaked history to put the people he wants in the story in the right places and times (this is all explained in the acknowledgement at the end of the book)). And like Vimes, Dodger is caught up with, and concerned for, the poor and disadvantaged, for all that he can’t help but rise socially.

It reminds me most of Nation, which means that it is very highly recommended indeed.

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