by Terry Pratchett
Middle School Harper/HarperCollins 360 pp.
10/12 978-0-06-200949-4 $17.99
Library ed. 978-0-06-200950-0 $18.89
e-book ed. 978-0-06-219015-4 $9.99
Who would have the skill, the sensibility, and the sass to put Charles Dickens into a novel and then proceed to write that novel in full-octane Dickensian style? Terry Pratchett, of course. Like his namesake in Oliver Twist, Dodger is a street urchin (“if you wanted to be a successful urchin you needed to study how to urch”) who makes his way in early-Victorian London as a tosher, a sewer gleaner. One rainy night he gallantly rescues a young woman who is being beaten up, and a complicated plot is set in motion. The cast includes Dickens, minor European royalty, Disraeli, Sweeney Todd, Charles Babbage, a philanthropist named Angela Burdett-Coutts (who alone is worth the price of admission), and Queen Victoria herself — but none of them upstages Dodger, a young man on the make and on the brink, with his own highly developed moral code. His original take on the world and his deft way with language make him a wonderful guide through sewers, morgues, theaters, drawing rooms, pea-soup fogs, and barbershops and a story of espionage, romance, action, skullduggery, double-dealing, and heroism. It’s a glittering conjuring act, but there’s real heart here, too, as Dodger’s horizons expand to include nature, art, and love.