Okay, everyone should know by now that I am a huge Terry Pratchett fan. But I was rather underwhelmed by his new book. Dodger is the second non-Discworld YA novel but its similar boy/girl dynamic makes it feel like a re-run of Nation in different costumes. There are Discworldy things which feel more like a nod for form’s sake (“kick him inna fork”), but its biggest problem is that it isn’t a DW novel.
Given that it is set in a grimy city with a colorful but plucky underclass, through which a noisome river runs— or rather oozes—what made Pterry decide that it was going to be London rather than Ankh-Morpork? Was it really just to people it with comic versions of Charles Dickens et al, who only bring to mind Charles Darwin et al in The Pirates in an Adventure with Scientists. (As I was reading, I was picturing most of the characters as animated much in that style.) Surely not… he’s no slouch at insinuating them into DW. Nobody has any doubts about who the originals for Leonard of Quirm and Bloody Stupid Johnson are.
And no-one thinks that DW is “only” a fantasy world. But what it is, is a place that is a character, and one which has endeared itself to Pterry’s fans over the past thirty years; so it seems rather perverse to set a tale in Not-Ankh-Morpork-Pretending-Not-Very-Convincingly-To-Be-London when all it lacks is C.M.O.T. Dibbler and the odd dwarf or werewolf. If C.M.O.T. Dibbler had turned up I wouldn’t have been surprised but he would have had more substance than most of the characters.
I can’t be the only fan wondering why Pterry went down this route, which could have benefited greatly from having been built on many crusty layers of Ankh-Morpork. Instead, this London has no such layers: it is a TV set of wonky cutouts splashed with the paintballs of period detail beloved of film-makers who have a shallow little story to try and flesh out. For it is a shallow story, with shallow characterization. Dodger, the Lovable Rogue (not all that lovable really), is a bit of a Mary Sue, and so to a different extent is his mentor Solomon. Simplicity, the Rescued Damsel, is well-named: she doesn’t even have the depth of Nation‘s heroine, and that is particularly disappointing as Pterry is usually good with female characters.
The solution to the characters’ dilemma is rather more distasteful than ingenious, and I can’t help feeling that an Ankh-Morpork urchin would have come up with something with more flair, perhaps aided by Gaspode rather than the doubtfully-named and mutely noisome dog Onan. (IS that a joke? Really?)
For the record, I did enjoy Dodger— while I was reading it. But unlike the DW books, I won’t be reading it again.