By Terry Pratchett
Unabridged Edition published by ISIS Audio Books
Read by Stephen Briggs
Before I say anything else, yes, I know that Mary Poppins (the movie at least) takes place in the Edwardian era, not the Victorian. As David Tomlinson sang, “King Edward’s on the throne. It’s the Age of Men!” Okay? Dodger is not set in Edwardian times at all. In fact, Terry Pratchett sets it in the early part of Queen Victoria’s reign. But since Pratchett’s Dodger had briefly been apprenticed to a chimney sweep it seemed an appropriate title for this review.
I have long been a fan of Pratchett’s fiction. I have always loved the Discworld series, a group of satiric fantasies that take place on a flat world that sits on the backs of four giant elephants who, in turn, stand on the back of an even more tremendous space-going turtle. And I have enjoyed most of his other works, some of which have been reviewed here. Pratchett has a talent for twisting cliché phrases and turning common situations on their heads.
Dodger, as one might imagine, sort of refers to the Dickens character, the Artful Dodger, although there is little or no real resemblance between Pratchett’s Dodger and the kid in Oliver Twist. Dodger is a lower-class orphan who has managed to get out of the work-house and, after a brief apprenticeship, as a chimney sweep has learned out to make sort of a living as a tosher – one who sifts through the sewers of London looking for coins and other valuables. Additionally, he has had the good fortune to make friends with a Jewish gentleman by the name of Solomon Cohen, so all-told Dodger is really somewhat better off than most people of lower-class London of the period.
And then one night, in the middle of a storm, Dodger witnesses two men beating up a woman with golden hair. When Charles Dickens and Henry Mayhew come along soon after, Dodger thinks they are the same two men come back to do still more to the poor unfortunate and he jumps to the woman’s rescue, thereby introducing Dodger to both Dickens and Mayhew, whose detailed descriptions of Victorian London, Pratchett draws from extensively.
From there, Dodger encounters the infamous Sweeney Todd, Benjamin Disraeli, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and quite a few more historical characters of the period and Pratchett brings them all together in a fun-to-read story.
My only complaint might be due to the fact I have read so much of Pratchett’s other works, but I found many of his usually clever turns of phrase predictable. They are all classic Pratchett, but I have heard many of them before. However, even with that, this is a fun and engrossing story.
I’ve said this before, but I have never listened to a Stephen Briggs reading that did not satisfy completely. The man is truly one of the best readers it has ever been my privilege to listen to. But do not take my word for it. Download or buy the disks of any of the audiobooks he has read and hear for yourself.
Mister Briggs is a master of the voice and each one of his characters is spot on perfect. A delight to listen to especially when the story is as much fun as Dodger is.
Read it or listen to Mister Briggs read it for you, but definitely do not let Dodger get past you!