Mr. Pratchetts 50th published novel and a further diversion from the Discworld for which he is quite justifiably of world renown.
This novel in fact approaches our reality closer than any other he has written, being set in Victorian London although the author takes some pains in an extended authors note in the book, to ensure that we believe its fantastical rather than historical narrative.
Somewhat of a challenge as the settings are familiar, the mockney charm of Victorian images of life in London and the Dickensian cast of characters with which the story is peppered...indeed one of our noble protagonists is one Mr. Charlie, man about town and newspaper serial writer and journalist who uses his contacts and writing to ensure the rise and rise of the eponymous hero of this tale. Benjamin Disraeli, Joseph Bazalgette, and Henry Mayhew whom the author cites as a major inspiration for this work, alongside the indomitable Angela Burdett-Coutts just to make sure we remember that there were some key female players in mid-Victorian London. Nods to the fictional; Sweeney Todd makes an appearance albeit briefly and Pratchett even creates his own Fagin (Solomon) in an homage to the work of Mr. Dickens and his testaments to the lives of the less privileged.
Dodger, (whose real name is a closely guarded secret only revealed much later in the story) spends his life as as an independent jack-the-lad tosher in the least salubrious parts of London, until chance sets him by a young woman belaboured by two gentlemen one stormy night and uses his earthy survival talents to see off the two thugs. In doing so he encounters the literary Mr. Charlie and philanthropic Henry and the scene is set. A damsel in distress, the young but unfortunate hero and two witnesses of influence who may provide the opportunity for this young man to develop into a person of substance and for love to bloom. A web of intrigue ensues, stretching from 'one of the Germanys' to London, through a rotter prince, a mysterious assassin via several murders and the death of an unfortunate young woman all of which are unravelled by the street smarts, burglary skills, wit and honesty of the young Dodger. Much more crops up along the wayside but I would not wish to spoil the readers enjoyment of this book by slipping many direct spoilers into this review.
The book is beautifully written with careful construction of lyrically powerful conversations between the characters interspersed with the delicate and accurate descriptions of contexts and motivations which Mr. Pratchett does so well. I'm not so gushing as many of his fans who continually claim each book to be 'the best one yet' but I am not disappointed in anyway...well perhaps a little... the book climbs to the denoument so quickly that the book finishes way too soon. I would have wished for a slightly less steep gradient of plot towards the end, in order to enjoy a little more of the lesser characters in the book, or a further tweak or twist of the plot. Mr. Pratchetts' insight into the basics of human motivations is as sharp as ever, which informs both plot and character development in pace with each other and particularly so in the creation of a thoroughly believable Dickens.
Delightful reading which will affirm Mr. Pratchetts place in the hearts of his fans and confirm his abilities as a writer with those who can't quite cope with the fantastical Discworld. For those who haven't read any of his work I would hope you may see this book as a way into appreciating his writing skill and thereby discover another world.