A young boy wearing a top hat and carrying a straight razor stands next to an open manhole on a Victorian London street, accompanied by a dog

About the Book

Title: Dodger
Published: 2012

Cover Story: The Devil’s in the Details
Drinking Buddy:
Warm English Beer
Testosterone Level:
Talky Talk:
Period Piece
Bonus Factors:
Gumpisms, Weird British Money, Wise Old Jewish Mentor
Bromance Status:
I Didn’t See Nothin’

Cover Story: The Devil’s in the Details

At first glance, this cover is almost too innocent: the apple cheeked, top-hatted scamp on the streets of Victorian London. It’s only when you look closely that you notice something’s not right. Is that a straight razor he’s carrying? Is he climbing out of the sewer? What about those ominous figures whose shadows we see in front of him? Like Dodger, there’s a lot more here than meets the eye.

Incidentally, this is not the same cover that’s on my copy:

Alternate cover of Terry Pratchett's. The title character stands with his back to the viewer, looking into an empty throne room

I’m not sure why.

The Deal:

Dodger is a tosher: someone who who prowls through the sewers of old London Town, searching for coins and other valuables that have been washed down there. Not the most glamorous line of work, but it beats his previous jobs as a chimney sweep and a flower girl (don’t ask). One especially rainy night he emerges from underground to find two men beating up a helpless young woman, Simplicity. Well, he can’t let them get away with that, can he? Little does Dodger know he’s about to be embroiled in a game of international intrigue. Life is about to get very interesting for young Dodger.

Drinking Buddy: Warm English Beer

Two pints of beer cheersing

Dodger wins my vote for the ultimate male YA hero. Though he’s an illiterate orphan who is not above breaking the law, breaking and entering, and breaking heads, he has an almost saintly level of morality. He doesn’t make friends easily, but when he does, he’ll defend them to the death. Has has no interest in politics, but has an innocent, intense patriotism. And the last time he saw someone trying to take advantage of a girl, Dodger left him unconscious in an alley and stole his underwear.

Talky Talk: Period Piece

Ah, the nineteenth century. A time when you could legally buy opium in England and buy people in the United States. When rich people were encouraged to marry their first cousins and poor children knew what it was like to put in a good eighteen hour work day. Pratchett takes us back to those times. As an American, I found the history lessons fascinating, as well as the bit of license he took blurring fantasy and history. For instance, Dodger gets a shave from a Fleet Street barber named Sweeny Todd (There’s something not right about that guy…and what is that smell?).

Bonus Factor: Gumpisms

Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump, standing with President Kennedy

Dodger merrily traipses around London, unaware that he’s hobnobbing with some of the greatest figures in English history. Charles Dickens becomes a bit of a mentor to Dodger, and many of their adventures come through in Dickens’s subsequent books. In addition, Dodger befriends the likes of Henry Mayhew, Sir Robert Peel, Angela Burdett-Coutts, John Tenniel, and Benjamin Disraeli. I knew that last guy. I had to look up all the others. See, I’m learning!

Bonus Factor: Weird British Money

Dodger is a literal coin collector, so some knowledge of the old British coinage system is needed.

Right, here goes: 2 farthings = 1 halfpenny; 2 halfpence = 1 penny; 3 pence = 1 thruppence; 6 pence = 1 sixpence (a ‘tanner’); 12 pence = 1 shilling (a bob); 2 shillings = 1 florin ( a ‘two bob bit’); 2 shillings and 6 pence = 1 half crown; 5 shillings = 1 Crown; 1 pound and one shilling = 1 guinea

I don’t want to hear any more crap about Americans not adopting the metric system.

Bonus Factor: Wise Old Jewish Mentor

MIckey Goldmill from the Rocky franchise

Dodger lives with Solomon, and old jeweler who acts as his landlord and friend.  Solomon has traveled all over Europe and gives Dodger the benefit of 6,000 years of Judaic wisdom, whether he likes it or not. Thanks to old Sol, Dodger learns the value of etiquette, dressing well, and using toilet paper.

Bromance Status: I didn’t see nothin’

I don’t know no one named Dodger, see? I didn’t do nothin’, I don’t know nothin’. But, erm, if you should happen to see this ‘Dodger’ character, tell ’em Brian says hi. Tell ’em he was a lot of laughs. Now piss off.

FTC Full disclosure: I got a free copy of Dodger at a symposium of the Young Adult Library Association. I also stole that sewer joke from humorist Tom Lehrer.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.