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From UK edition:
Dodger is a tosher - a sewer scavenger living in the squalor of Dickensian London.
Everyone who is nobody knows Dodger. Anyone who is anybody doesn't.
But when he rescues a young girl from a beating, suddenly everybody wants to know him.
And Dodger's tale of skulduggery, dark plans and even darker deeds begins . . .
From US edition:
He’s cunning. He’s artful. He’s Terry Pratchett’s DODGER.
A storm. Rain-lashed city streets. A flash of lightning. A scruffy lad sees a girl leap desperately from a horse-drawn carriage in a vain attempt to escape her captors. Can the lad stand by and let her be caught again? Of course not, because he’s … Dodger.
Seventeen-year-old Dodger may be a street urchin, but he gleans a living from London’s sewers, and he knows a jewel when he sees one. He’s not about to let anything happen to the unknown girl—not even if her fate impacts some of the most powerful people in England.
From Dodger’s encounter with the mad barber Sweeney Todd to his meetings with the great writer Charles Dickens and the calculating politician Benjamin Disraeli, history and fantasy intertwine in a breathtaking account of adventure and mystery.
Beloved and bestselling author Sir Terry Pratchett combines high comedy with deep wisdom in this tale of an unexpected coming-of-age and one remarkable boy’s rise in a complex and fascinating world.
In which we meet our hero, and the hero meets an orphan of the storm and comes face to face with Mister Charlie, a gentleman known as a bit of a scribbler
The rain poured down on London so hard that it seemed that it was dancing spray, every raindrop contending with its fellow for supremacy in the air and waiting to splash down. It was a deluge. The drains and sewers were overflowing, throwing up – regurgitating, as it were – the debris of muck, slime and filth, the dead dogs, the dead rats, cats and worse; bringing back up to the world of men all those things that they thought they had left behind them; jostling and gurgling and hurrying towards the overflowing and always hospitable river Thames; bursting its banks, bubbling and churning like some nameless soup boiling in a dreadful cauldron; the river itself gasping like a dying fish. But those in the know always said about the London rain that, try as it might, it would never, ever clean that noisome city, because all it did was show you another layer of dirt. And on this dirty night there were appropriately dirty deeds that not even the rain could wash away.
A fancy two-horse coach wallowed its way along the street, some piece of metal stuck near an axle causing it to be heralded by a scream. And indeed there was a scream, a human scream this time, as the coach door was flung open and a figure tumbled out into the gushing gutter, which tonight was doing the job of a fountain. Two other figures sprang from the coach, cursing in language that was as colourful as the night was dark and even dirtier. In the downpour, fitfully lit by the lightning, the first figure tried to escape but tripped, fell and was leaped upon, with a cry that was hardly to be heard in all the racket, but which was almost supernaturally counterpointed by the grinding of iron, as a drain cover nearby was pushed open to reveal a struggling and skinny young man who moved with the speed of a snake.
‘You let that girl alone!’ he shouted.
There was a curse in the dark and one of the assailants fell backwards with his legs kicked from under him. The youth was no heavyweight but somehow he was everywhere, throwing blows – blows which were augmented by a pair of brass knuckles, always a helpmeet for the outnumbered. Outnumbered one to two as it were, the assailants took to their heels while the youth followed, raining blows. But it was London and it was raining and it was dark, and they were dodging into alleys and side streets, frantically trying to catch up with their coach, so that he lost them, and the apparition from the depths of the sewers turned round and headed back to the stricken girl at greyhound speed.
He knelt down, and to his surprise she grabbed him by the collar and whispered in what he considered to be foreigner English, ‘They want to take me back, please help me . . .’ The lad sprang to his feet, his eyes all suspicion.
On this stormy night of stormy nights, it was opportune then that two men who themselves knew something about the dirt of London were walking, or rather, wading, along this street, hurrying home with hats pulled down – which was a nice try, but simply didn’t work, because in this torrent it seemed that the bouncing water was coming as much from below as it was from above. Lightning struck again, and one of them said, ‘Is that someone lying in the gutter there?’ The lightning presumably heard, because it sliced down again and revealed a shape, a mound – a person, as far as these men could see.
‘Good heavens, Charlie, it’s a girl! Soaked to the skin and thrown into the gutter, I imagine,’ said one of them. ‘Come on . . .’
‘Hey, you, what are you a-doing, mister?!’
By the light of a pub window which could barely show you the darkness, the aforesaid Charlie and his friend saw the face of a boy who looked like a young lad no more than seventeen years old but who seemed to have the voice of a man. A man, moreover, who was prepared to take on both of them, to the death. Anger steamed off him in the rain and he wielded a long piece of metal. He carried on, ‘I know your sort, oh yes I do! Coming down here chasing the skirt, making a mockery of decent girls. Blimey! Desperate, weren’t you, to be out on a night such as this!’
The man who wasn’t called Charlie straightened up. ‘Now see here, you. I object most strongly to your wretched allegation. We are respectable gentlemen who, I might add, work quite hard to better the fortunes of such poor wretched girls and, indeed, by the look of it, those such as yourself!’
The scream of rage from the boy was sufficiently loud that the doors of the nearby pub swung open, causing smoky orange light to illuminate the ever-present rain. ‘So that’s what you call it, is it, you smarmy old gits!’
The boy swung his home-made weapon but the man called Charlie caught it and dropped it behind him, then grabbed the boy and held him by the scruff of his neck. ‘Mister Mayhew and myself are decent citizens, young man, and as such we surely feel it is our duty to take this young lady somewhere away from harm.’ Over his shoulder he said, ‘Your place is closest, Henry. Do you think your wife would object to receiving a needy soul for one night? I wouldn’t like to see a dog out on a night such as this.’
Henry, now clutching the young woman, nodded. ‘Do you mean two dogs, by any chance?’
The struggling boy took immediate offence at this, and with a snake-like movement was out of the grip of Charlie, and once again spoiling for a fight. ‘I ain’t no dog, you nobby sticks, nor ain’t she! We have our pride, you know. I make my own way, I does, all kosher, straight up!’
The man called Charlie lifted the boy up by the scruff of his neck so that they were face to face. ‘My, I admire your attitude, young man, but not your common sense!’ he said quietly. ‘And mark you, this young lady is in a bad way. Surely you can see that. My friend’s house is not too far away from here, and since you have set yourself up as her champion and protector, why then, I invite you to follow us there and witness that she will have the very best of treatment that we can afford, do you hear me? What is your name, mister? And before you tell it to me, I invite you to believe that you are not the only person who cares about a young lady in dire trouble on this dreadful night. So, my boy, what is your name?’
The boy must have picked up a tone in Charlie’s voice, because he said, ‘I’m Dodger – that’s what they call me, on account I’m never there, if you see what I mean? Everybody in all the boroughs knows Dodger.’
‘Well, then,’ said Charlie. ‘Now we have met you and joined that august company, we must see if we can come to an understanding during this little odyssey, man to man.’ He straightened up and went on, ‘Let us move, Henry, to your house and as soon as possible, because I fear this unfortunate girl needs all the help we can give her. And you, my lad, do you know this young lady?’
He let go of the boy, who took a few steps backwards. ‘No, guv’nor, never seen her before in my life, God’s truth, and I know everybody on the street. Just another runaway – happens all the time, so it does; it don’t bear thinking about.’
‘Am I to believe, Mister Dodger, that you, not knowing this unfortunate woman, nevertheless sprang to her defence like a true Galahad?’
Dodger suddenly looked very wary. ‘I might be, I might not. What’s it to you, anyway? And who the hell is this Galahad cove?’
Charlie and Henry made a cradle with their arms to carry the woman. As they set off, Charlie said over his shoulder, ‘You have no idea what I just said, do you, Mister Dodger? But Galahad was a famous hero . . . Never mind – you just follow us, like the knight in soaking armour that you are, and you will see fair play for this damsel, get a good meal and, let me see . . .’ Coins jingled in the darkness. ‘Yes, two shillings, and if you do come you will perhaps improve your chances of Heaven, which, if I am any judge, is not a place that often concerns you. Understand? Do we have an accord? Very well.’
Twenty minutes later, Dodger was sitting close to the fire in the kitchen of a house – not a grand house as such, but nevertheless much grander than most buildings he went into legally; there were much grander buildings that he had been into illegally, but he never spent very much time in them, often leaving with a considerable amount of haste. Honestly, the number of dogs people had these days was a damn scandal, so it was, and they would set them on a body without warning, so he had always been speedy. But here, oh yes, here there was meat and potatoes, carrots too, but not, alas, any beer. In the kitchen he had been given a glass of warm milk which was nearly fresh. Mrs Quickly the cook was watching him like a hawk and had already locked away the cutlery, but apart from that it seemed to be a pretty decent crib, although there had been a certain amount of what you might call words from the missus of Mister Henry to her husband on the subject of bringing home waifs and strays at this time of night. It seemed to Dodger, who paid a great deal of forensic attention to all he could see and hear, that this was by no means the first time that she had cause for complaint; she sounded like someone trying hard to conceal that they were really fed up, and trying to put a brave face on it. But nevertheless, Dodger had certainly had his meal (and that was the important thing), the wife and a maid had bustled off with the girl, and now . . . someone was coming down the stairs to the kitchen.
It was Charlie, and Charlie bothered Dodger. Henry seemed like one of them do-gooders who felt guilty about having money and food when other people did not; Dodger knew the type. He, personally, was not bothered about having money when other people didn’t, but when you lived a life like his, Dodger found that being generous when in funds, and being a cheerful giver, was a definite insurance. You needed friends – friends were the kind of people who would say: ‘Dodger? Never heard of ’im, never clapped eyes on ’im, guv’nor! You must be thinking of some other cove’ – because you had to live as best you could in the city, and you had to be sharp and wary and on your toes every moment of the day if you wanted to stay alive.
He stayed alive because he was the Dodger, smart and fast. He knew everybody and everybody knew him. He had never, ever, been before the beak, he could outrun the fastest Bow Street runner and, now that they had all been found out and replaced, he could outrun every peeler as well. They couldn’t arrest you unless they put a hand on you, and nobody ever managed to touch Dodger.
“It's a masterwork from a treasure and hero of a writer, and it will delight you.”
- Cory Doctorow - Boing Boing
This superb novel from Pratchett is relatively subdued in its humor and contains virtually no fantasy, beyond a flavoring of early Victorian alternate history. It's not only a fine Dickensian novel--Dickens himself figures prominently.
It follows a sewer-scouring "tosher" and thief named Dodger, "a skinny young man who moved with the speed of a snake," who, like a knight in soiled armor, leaps out of a drain one night to protect a young woman who is being severely beaten. Two of London's most famous figures, Charles Dickens and social reformer Henry Mayhew, appear on the scene a moment later.
A complex plot gradually unravels involving the identity of the mystery girl, known only as Simplicity, and the reasons someone powerful wants her dead. Making guest appearances are such luminaries as Benjamin Disraeli, Queen Victoria, and Angela Burdett-Coutts, the richest woman in the world at the time. Full of eccentric characters and carefully detailed London scenes, the tale embodies both Dickens's love for the common man and a fierce desire for social justice.
- Publishers Weekly
“An ebullient, funny and delightful novel.”
- Marcus Sedgwick, The Guardian
“You can’t help loving Dodger as he ducks, dives, falls in love and rises in the Victorian world. This is a hero I can’t wait to meet again.” Children’s Book of the Week"
- Amanda Craig, The Times
Pratchett leaves Discworld to bring us something that is quite nearly—but not exactly—actual historical fiction.
Dodger is a guttersnipe and a tosher (a glossary would not have been amiss to help readers navigate the many archaic terms, although most are defined in the text, often humorously). He knows everyone, and everyone knows him, and he’s a petty criminal but also (generally) one of the good guys. One night he rescues a beautiful young woman and finds himself hobnobbing quite literally with the likes of Charlie Dickens (yes, that Dickens) and Ben Disraeli. The young woman is fleeing from an abusive husband and has been beaten until she miscarried; power and abuse are explored sensitively but deliberately throughout. And when he attempts to smarten himself up to impress the damsel in distress, he unexpectedly comes face to face with—and disarms!—Sweeney Todd. As Dodger rises, he continuously grapples with something Charlie has said: “the truth is a fog.” Happily, the only fog here is that of Dodger’s London, and the truth is quite clear: Historical fiction in the hands of the inimitable Sir Terry brings the sights and the smells (most certainly the smells) of Old London wonderfully to life, in no small part due to the masterful third-person narration that adopts Dodger’s voice with utmost conviction.
Unexpected, drily funny and full of the pathos and wonder of life: Don't miss it.
- Kirkus Reviews
Press the play button below to listen to a short audio excerpt.