Dodger by Terry Pratchett

DodgerI completed reading the book in December but have been contemplating how to review it ever since. Pratchett describes it as a work of historical fantasy in his end notes, and I guess that’s about as fitting a depiction as you’re ever likely to hear.

Dodger is a 17-year-old scallywag in Victorian era London who mucks about in the sewers looking for coins, jewellery or anything else that manages to find its way there. We learn that those who earn a living in this fashion are known affectionately as toshers.

The Plot

Dodger rises up from the sewers one stormy night and rescues a young girl known as Simplicity, who was being brutalized by a few thugs, while running away to escape from a loveless marriage to a foreign nobleman. And so follows a sequence of improbable events that sees the rise of Dodger from humble toshing to well-off gentleman, even being honoured by the Queen.

While spending all his time using his various street-wise skills to protect Simplicity from the thugs hired by husband to retrieve her, Dodger meets and befriends an assortment of historical characters such as the Charles Dickens, Henry Mayhew, Benjamin Disraeli, Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts and Sir Robert Peel. For good measure, Pratchett also throws in an encounter with the famous fictional barber of Fleet Street, Sweeney Todd.

This is not your usual Terry Pratchett novel, but is thoroughly enjoyable and humorous to boot. Pratchett continues to impress me.

Quotable Quotes

“The pawnshop was where you took your tools if you were out of work, and where you bought them back again when you were back in the job, because it’s easier to eat bread than to eat hammers.”

“…there are two ways of looking at the world, but only one when you are starving.”

“He really wanted a sign. There ought to be signs, and if there was a sign, there should be a sign on it to show that is was a sign so that you definitely knew it was a sign.”

“True, it was a lot of money for something that he really didn’t need, but it was the principle of the thing. He didn’t know exactly what the principle was, but it was a principle and it had a thing, and that was that.”

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Having read Good Omens, Gaiman’s collaboration with Terry Pratchett, I certainly did look forward to reading one of his solo works. But like Good Omens, I felt unsatisfied at the end because it all worked out rather too neat.

Hang on to that thought because we’ll come back to it later…

The plot revolves around the likeable ex-con Shadow, fresh out of prison, who allows himself to be drafted into service as a bodyguard of sorts to an ageing con-man Mr. Wednesday, who later reveals himself to be Odin, a God of the Norse pantheon. The unlikely duo travel across America attempting to enlist the aid of various other mythological Gods, who we learn have been brought over to America [through the act of belief] from the old countries by an assortment of immigrants. The recruitment drive is to create a force to participate in an impending battle with the New Gods represented by modern technology, the media, celebrities etcetera.

Along the way we meet crotchety characters such Czernobog and Mama Ji who is the Indian God Kali, and rather likeable Gods such as Mr. Ibis and Mr. Jacquel representing the Gods Thoth and Anubis respectively. But there are other in-between Gods such as Easter (Eostre) and Mr. Nancy (Ananzi), and the supposed bad guys representing the New Gods with names like Mr. Town and Mr. World, who is also the known as Low-Key Lyesmith, otherwise known as Loki.

The human characters along the way do not play significant parts in the plot except for Shadows’ dead wife [yes, dead wife], Sam Black Crow and girl he meets while driving across the States and Chad Mulligan, a police officer in a small town which features prominently in te book.

Not wanting to give away too much about the myriad twists and turns and the special reltionships between the various characters, both Gods and humans alike, I’m going to leave it at that. But I now go back to the ending which I mentioned earlier.

I would have liked to see a messy ending, where either the Old Gods get their asses kicked, or even the New Gods. But Gaiman decided to let Shadow intervene between the warring sides and end the battle peacefully, with hardly any casualties. Maybe he was trying to tell us that the Old Gods can live side by side with the New. Or that the Old Gods are so inbuilt into our psyche’s that they will stay there for a very long time, if not forever. Or that the New Gods can’t be killed as they are the future.

However you look at it, it’s a compromise we’ll have to live with…

At the time of writing this review, HBO is developing a TV series of the book for airing some time around 2013, with Tom Hanks producing. It’s something to look forward to.

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman

If this book isn’t already a cult classic, it most certainly should be. Subtitled The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch and released around 1990, Good Omens is a collaboration between Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett [although Pratchett did more of the writing and editing], both well-known fantasy authors in their own right.

Having not read either author’s work previously, this introduction to their comic genius has prompted me to purchase a few of their individual books which I’m eagerly looking forward to reading very soon.

The main plot revolves around the impending end of the world as we know it – Armageddon, and the efforts of the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley, to prevent the Antichrist in the guise of Adam Young, an eleven-year old boy from bringing it about, having taken a liking (in their own ways) to humans and becoming inured to the comfortable life on earth over the millenia. Aziraphale we are told is the angel originally from the biblical Garden of Eden, while Crowley is better known as the talking snake who tempted Eve.

Being the respective representatives of God and Satan on earth, both form an unlikely friendship and conspire to ensure that the baby from Hell that Crowley is tasked to integrate into human society, does not actually grow up learning to differentiate between Good and Evil. Needless to say, in a comic mix-up at the hospital the future Antichrist winds up with the wrong family and grows up to be a relatively normal eleven-year boy who begins to utilize his unearthly powers without knowing it.

As the fateful day of the Rapture approaches, the race is on by both demon and angel to find the Antichrist a.k.a. Adam Young, to prevent him from initiating it. But there are also a host of other characters after him, some to help him end the world such as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse riding motorcycles, and others such as Anathema Device, the descendent of the witch Agnes Nutter, and Newton Pulsifer the witch hunter  descended from the man responsible for burning Agnes at the stake. The latter pair team up to find Adam and help save the world.

The rather neat ending in which the world is saved from annihilation was a bit of a let-down, but overall the many laughs and perceptive commentary about the state of the world up to that point, more than make up for it. I found the final thought from Adam [listed further below] is something everyone should aspire to.

Perceptive Commentary About the State of the World, or My Favorite Quotes

  1. God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players, to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won’t tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.
  2. It happened to them at a certain age, wives. Twenty-five blameless years, then suddenly they were going off and doing these robotic exercises in pink socks with the feet cut out and they started blaming you for never having had ti work for a living. It was hormones or something.
  3. They’d been brought up to it and weren’t, when you got right down to it, particularly evil. Human beings mostly aren’t. They just get carried away by new ideas, like dressing up in jackboots and shooting people, or dressing up in white sheets and lynching people, or dressing up in tie-dye jeans and playing guitars at people. Offer people a new creed with a costume and their hearts and minds will follow.
  4. It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people.
  5. They were born into a world that was against them in a thousand little ways, and then devoted most of their energies to making it worse.
  6. People couldn’t become truly holy, he said, unless they also had the opportunity to be definitively wicked.
  7. There are some dogs which, when you meet them, remind you that , despite thousands of years of manmade evolution, every dog is still only two meals away from being a wolf.
  8. “Churches? What good did they ever do? They’m just as bad. Same line o’ business nearly. You can’t trust them to stamp out the Evil One, ‘cos if they did, they’d be out o’ that line of business…”
  9. He’d have liked to believe in a supreme God, although he’d have preferred a half-hour’s chat with Him before committing himself, to clear up one or two points. He’d sat in all sorts of churches, waiting for that single flash of blue light, and it hadn’t come. And he’d tried to become an official Atheist and hadn’t got the rock-hard, self-satisfied strength of belief even for that.
  10. It was then that Marvin got religion. Not the quiet, personal kind, that involves doing good deeds and living a better life; not even the kind that involves putting on a suit and ringing people’s doorbells; but the kind that involves having your own TV network and getting people to send you money.
  11. “I don’t see what’s so triffic about creating people as people and the gettin’ upset ‘cos they act like people,” said Adam severely. “Anyway, if you stopped tellin’ people it’s all sorted out after they’re dead, they might try sorting it all out while they’re alive.”
  12. There never was an apple, in Adam’s opinion, that wasn’t worth the trouble you got into for eating it.