Review: Never Never by Brianna R. Shrum

Never Never Book Cover Never Never
Brianna R. Shrum

James Hook is a child who only wants to grow up. When he meets Peter Pan, a boy who loves to pretend and is intent on never becoming a man, James decides he could try being a child - at least briefly. James joins Peter Pan on a holiday to Neverland, a place of adventure created by children's dreams, but Neverland is not for the faint of heart. Soon James finds himself longing for home, determined that he is destined to be a man. But Peter refuses to take him back, leaving James trapped in a world just beyond the one he loves. A world where children are to never grow up. But grow up he does. And thus begins the epic adventure of a Lost Boy and a Pirate. This story isn't about Peter Pan; it's about the boy whose life he stole. It's about a man in a world that hates men. It's about the feared Captain James Hook and his passionate quest to kill the Pan, an impossible feat in a magical land where everyone loves Peter Pan. Except one.

Review:

I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

As a kid, I watched a lot of Disney movies, and although I enjoyed the heroes and princesses, the characters that interested me the most were the villains. I don’t know what this says about me as a person, but I found Ursula, Scar, Hades, and the like far more compelling than their heroic counterparts.

Given my soft spot for fictional antagonists, it’s no surprise that Never Never pleased me as much as it did. It’s the origin story – or, I suppose, the entire life story – of Captain James Hook, Peter Pan’s arch-nemesis.

Much as I loved this book, the two of us didn’t initially get off to an auspicious start. Never Never is very slow at first, beginning with 12-year-old James’ family life in London and detailing how he meets Peter and is tricked into accompanying him to Neverland. The first several chapters are a slog, and it took me ages to get through the entire novel because I kept taking long breaks and having to go back and reread from the beginning. Once I finally made it to the end of the first section, though, I was completely hooked. (Pun intended! 🙂 )

I should warn you in advance: Never Never isn’t exactly what you’d consider an uplifting book. In fact, I’d go so far as to call it grim. Initially lured to Neverland with a promise that he can simply visit “on holiday,” James is dismayed when he realizes that he’s trapped in Peter’s fantasy world and can never return home to his family. Devastated, James joins the ranks of Lost Boys, where he remains until he commits Neverland’s gravest sin – beginning to grow up. Cast out by Pan, James soon realizes that options are limited in Neverland; if you aren’t with Peter Pan, you can only be against him.

“You were selected. So you could come and go from Neverland as you pleased, and so could your dreams…But the ones Peter likes, they stay here forever.”

Shrum does a fantastic job of imbuing James’ story with an air of wistfulness and loss. Lost family, lost home, lost friends, lost innocence…James has been robbed of just about everything good in his life, and the tragic thing is that he knows it. Peter and his Lost Boys wear figurative blinders; they’re childish and self-absorbed and don’t recognize what they’re missing. Nor are they troubled by conscience. In fact, they literally FORGET people and truths that are inconvenient to them and are therefore able to go on happily living in their little fantasy world. In contrast, James remembers everything that happens to him. He’s the only self-aware, memory-burdened person in Pan’s twisted world, and it’s a lonely and terrible thing.

What’s ironic about James is that he has all the makings of a hero…if only this were another world, another story. It’s Peter Pan’s treachery, and the madness that it drives James to, that makes him the villain in Pan’s Neverland. I couldn’t help but sympathize with James, even as I watched grief and bitterness drive him farther and farther down a path that I couldn’t condone. He transforms from James, a bright and noble boy, to Hook, a debauched, arrogant, ruthless pirate, and though it’s fascinating to watch, it’s also painful. He becomes less and less recognizable as he loses himself in revenge, guilt, and rage.

“‘Tell me, pirate,’ she said after he’d been silent for a while, ‘how am I to change what Neverland has willed me to be? You clearly couldn’t.’
Hook recoiled, ripped from his musings, struck by her words. ‘What did you say?’ […]
‘I’m saying that you were not a scoundrel when you came here. You were not a pirate. But it was your destiny, wasn’t it?’”

It’s not just James’ transformation into Captain Hook that makes Never Never so fascinating; it’s also Peter Pan himself. I’ve got to give it to Shrum – in Peter, she’s written a supremely infuriating, hateful little wretch of a character. He’s selfish, irresponsible, and cruel, and I found myself despising him almost as fiercely as James did. The thing about Peter, though, is that he has a strange allure. Neverland is his creation, having been manifested from Peter’s dreams. As a result, everything in his world is compulsively attuned to him. The land itself responds to his moods, which is scary given see how volatile he can be. It makes Neverland a place that is both wondrous and ominous, lovely and sinister.

“It was too beautiful to be real. But, everything in Neverland seemed too something to be real. Too beautiful, too horrible, too fantastic, too savage.”

Peter’s influence over Neverland and its inhabitants makes for great tension in the story. Think about it – what hope does James, Peter Pan’s sworn enemy, have for happiness in a world literally designed for and by Peter Pan? The odds are stacked against him. Even James himself feels the pull of Peter’s magnetism: “[S]omehow, in the darkest depths of him, as Peter was trying to murder him, a piece of James wanted to give him whatever it was that he wanted.”

Between James Hook and Peter Pan, Never Never has everything you need for a captivating story about the rise and fall of a villain. The only thing that might be considered missing is an element of hope and cheer, but I thought Never Never was better without it. The book is haunting and tragic, but that’s the kind of villain origin story that calls to me the most. If you have similar tastes, Never Never is definitely for you.

Review: The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale by Danielle E. Shipley

The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale Book Cover The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale
Danielle E. Shipley

Welcome to Avalon, a Renaissance Faire where heroes of legend never die. Where the Robin Hood walking the streets is truly the noble outlaw himself. Where the knightly and wizardly players of King Arthur’s court are in fact who they profess to be. Where the sense of enchantment in the air is not mere feeling, but the Fey magic of a paradise hidden in plain sight.

Enter Allyn-a-Dale. The grief of his father’s death still fresh and the doom of his own world looming, swirling realities leave the young minstrel marooned in an immortal Sherwood Forest, where he is recruited as a member of Robin Hood’s infamous outlaw band. But Allyn’s new life may reach its end before it’s scarcely begun. Their existence under threat, the Merry Men are called upon to embark on a journey to the dangerous world Outside – ours – on a quest which must be achieved without delay, or eternity in Avalon will not amount to very long at all.

Review:

I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Because I’m on a life-long quest to find and devour books about Robin Hood and his Merry Men, I was delighted to stumble upon The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale. A Renaissance Faire populated by living legends like King Arthur, Merlin, and the dashing Robin Hood? Count me in!

At the start of the story, newly orphaned minstrel Allyn-a-Dale is brought, rather unexpectedly, to the mystical Avalon. Avalon is a “place of magical renewal,” a refuge where legendary beings are kept alive and well by the magic of the fey. In order to keep the modern-day people who don’t live in Avalon (known as “Outsiders”) from discovering their secret, the legends hide in plain sight, operating Avalon as a Renaissance Faire and pretending to be actors portraying their real selves.

“While you’re in Avalon, you are employed by the Faire. Do room, board, and conditionally eternal youth sound like fair wages to you?”

Allyn is graciously permitted to join the Faire’s residents as one of Robin Hood’s Merry Men. All goes smoothly until someone steals the magical artifact that concentrates the faeries’ power and keeps Avalon’s residents alive. Robin and his crew vow to recover the artifact, and they venture into the modern world in pursuit.

Legendary characters and modern ways of life clash in this book; in many ways, it’s quite jarring. For example, I found it disconcerting that the wizard Merlin owns a computer. Likewise, there’s something vaguely horrifying about hearing one of the Merry Men utter the words “chillax, you pedant,” or seeing Queen Guinevere “grooving along to the Rock Minstrel’s ‘Round Table Rhapsody’” while playing a Dance-Dance-Avalon video game.

That said, there are times when it’s amusing to see the Merry Men try to assimilate to contemporary culture. Will Scarlet, Robin’s cousin and fellow outlaw, is an Outside/pop culture enthusiast, and he serves as the Merry Men’s sometimes-bumbling-yet-always-energetic guide during the jaunt through the “real” world. There’s a great scene when the group is initiated into the mysteries of placing an order in a fast-food drive-through, and I enjoyed the irony of Robin shopping for clothes at Target. (Archery…targets…get it?) Best of all, though, is when Will tries to engage the Merry Men in a “traditional road-trip game,” at which time his companions totally fail to grasp the nuances of the Alphabet Name Game.

There’s a great deal of goofy humor in The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale, some of it hitting its mark and some of it not. A few of the cheesier lines had me wincing, like when Merlin learns Allyn’s name and asks, “How do you spell that?” Allyn promptly supplies, “T,H,A,T,” which made me groan out loud.

“His gaze incredulous, Allyn whispered, ‘Do you really rob people?’
‘Unless you count the outrageous price of an ice cream cone around here, not so much nowadays,’ Will said, with a matter-of-fact shrug.”

My main complaint about this novel is that it’s simple and one-dimensional. While I found it to be a very pleasant book, I would have liked greater complexity and depth. It was much lighter and fluffier than I expected, and the characters’ lack of substance left me unsatisfied.

Ultimately, while I enjoyed adding this new Robin Hood story to my quiver (see what I did there?), the overall tone wasn’t exactly what I’d bargained for. I find I prefer more complex Robin Hood tales, with conflict and an edgy tone, to the light-hearted versions like this one. That said, The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale boasts a fun premise and great writing, so if you’ve an interest in merry outlaws, it’s still worth giving this book a shot.

And now, I’ll leave you with a few amusing quotes from the book:

“There’s a lot of overlap, I’ve found, between the truth and the impossible.”

*****

“…Merlin paused between the chairs of Gawain and Lancelot, turned to face those assembled, and announced, ‘Just so everybody knows, we are all thoroughly screwed.’”

*****

“‘Thank you,’ said Allyn, lovingly embracing his guitar-lute as a mother would her ugly baby.”

Review: Phantom’s Dance by Lesa Howard

Phantom's Dance Book Cover Phantom's Dance
Lesa Howard

Christine Dadey's family uprooted their lives and moved to Houston for her to attend the prestigious Rousseau Academy of Dance. Now, two years later, Christine struggles to compete among the Academy's finest dancers, her parents are on the brink of divorce, and she's told no one about her debilitating performance anxiety and what she's willing to do to cope with it. Erik was a ballet prodigy, a savant, destined to be a star on the world's stage, but a suspicious fire left Erik's face horribly disfigured. Now, a lonely phantom forced to keep his scars hidden, he spends his nights haunting the theater halls, mourning all he's lost. Then, from behind the curtain he sees the lovely Christine. The moldable, malleable Christine. Drawn in by Erik's unwavering confidence, Christine allows herself to believe Erik's declarations that he can transform her into the dancer she longs to be. But Christine's hope of achieving her dreams may be her undoing when she learns Erik is not everything he claims. And before long, Erik's shadowy past jeopardizes Christine's unstable present as his obsession with her becomes hopelessly entangled with his plans for revenge.

Review:

When I first read the synopsis for Phantom’s Dance, I couldn’t contain my glee. A reimagining of The Phantom of the Opera, set at a ballet academy rather than an opera house? What could be better than that?!

Phantom’s Dance is told from the perspective of Christine Dadey, a young dancer who has sacrificed a great deal to pursue her dreams of becoming a professional ballerina. She’s left her home and her friends and given up having a “normal” life to attend Rousseau Academy, where she practices ballet for hours each day in hopes of winning a spot with the Academy’s dance company. For all her technical proficiency as a dancer, however, there’s something Christine is missing: creative expression. Her teachers warn that talent alone isn’t enough to earn her a position with the company, and if Christine can’t imbue her dancing with emotion and passion, she’ll never make it as a ballerina.

Discouraged, Christine despairs of ever realizing her dreams. This changes when she meets Erik, a mysterious, masked man whose looks, health, and own promising career as a dancer were destroyed in a fiery accident. Erik understands what it takes to rise to the top in the dancing world and offers to train Christine in secret.

As Erik tells Christine, “You don’t need tutoring. You need transforming.” He goes on to do just that, dancing with Christine, guiding her, and teaching her to pour herself into her work. He’s got a lot of wisdom to impart, my favorite being, “You have to stop making allowances for failure. Don’t expect to fail.” Christine blossoms under Erik’s tutelage…at least until Erik begins to reveal a darker side of himself, a side that makes Christine increasingly uncomfortable.

I enjoyed the student-teacher relationship between Erik and Christine, and there’s an amazing scene where the two perform a pas de deux together – it’s one of my favorite moments in the book. The concept of personal expression superseding simple balletic ability really appealed to me as well. There’s a great chapter in which Christine is attempting to perform a scene from the ballet Giselle. Her less-than-impressed instructor cuts the performance short and tries to impress upon Christine the importance of emotion in dance:

“In spite of Duke Albrecht’s betrayal,” she continued, “Giselle loves this man. Yet you dance like you are going to the local Wal-Mart. Where is the drama? Where is the grief and shame?”

As much as I liked the dance aspects of this book, I was disappointed by the overall tone of the story. I was hoping for the dark sensuality of the musical version of The Phantom of the Opera, but much of Phantom’s Dance ended up feeling very watered down and G-rated. This is partly due to the writing style, which is occasionally awkward and almost juvenile. Erik is to blame as well. He lacks the allure and magnetism that would have made him a more compelling character, and he doesn’t feel suitably dangerous until the end of the book, when the story takes a surprisingly dark turn.

It probably makes me sound like a terrible person to say this, but I was actually kind of relieved that this turn kept the book from being squeaky clean and bright the entire way through. It wouldn’t have been a true adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera if everything was daisies and rainbows.

“There’s no place for the scarred – the ugly – in ballet. So I come here and cower behind the curtains and remember what it was like to have once been the dancer the audience adored.”

Phantom’s Dance wasn’t the best POTO-inspired story I’ve ever read – that honor goes to Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine – but it still deserves a solid 3 stars. I think it will especially appeal to readers who are interested in books about dancing, although there are plenty of great subplots, like the strained relationship between Christine’s parents and her budding romance with handsome football player Raoul, to keep things interesting even for those who don’t usually care for ballet.

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Blog Tour, Giveaway and Review: The Last Necromancer

Tour banner for The Last Necromancer by C.J. Archer

About The Last Necromancer

Book cover for The Last Necromancer by C.J. Archer

Victorian London: For five years, Charlotte (Charlie) Holloway has lived as a boy in the slums. But when one theft too many gets her arrested, her only means of escape lies with a dead man. Charlie hasn’t raised a spirit since she first discovered she could do so five years ago. That time, her father banished her. This time, she brings even more trouble upon herself.

People are now hunting Charlie all over London, but only one man succeeds in capturing her.

Lincoln Fitzroy is the mysterious head of a secret organization on the trail of a madman who needs a necromancer to control his newly “made” creatures. There was only one known necromancer in the world – Charlotte – but now there appears to be two. Lincoln captures the willful Charlie in the hopes the boy will lead him to Charlotte. But what happens when he discovers the boy is in fact the young woman he’s been searching for all along? And will she agree to work for the man who held her against her will, and for an organization she doesn’t trust?

Because Lincoln and his ministry might be just as dangerous as the madman they’re hunting.

Review

A free copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Four-star rating

 

 

A good friend once told me a story about her kids and their annual beach vacation. On their very first trip to the shore, my friend exhausted herself chasing her young boys around the boardwalk, where they spent hours playing the arcade games and devouring ice cream cones and riding all the rides. The second year they went to the beach, my friend decided a more relaxing experience was in order and told the boys that the boardwalk attractions had been a carnival and that it hadn’t come back to town. They spent a quiet, restful time on a beach that was near the boardwalk but not in sight of it. My friend’s sons were none the wiser, not for that trip or all the subsequent ones. It wasn’t until the boys were teenagers that they learned the truth and realized they’d been missing out on boardwalk awesomeness for years.

That’s kind of how I feel about C.J. Archer – I’m amazed that I’ve been missing out on her books for so long. When I signed up to do The Last Necromancer blog tour, I mistakenly thought Archer was a debut author. It was only after I finished the book and did an excited Google search for the sequel that I discovered Archer has penned at least five series, as well as a handful of standalones. How did I not know these books existed?! Why am I only now learning about this awesome author?! So many wasted years!!!

The Last Necromancer, the first installment of the Ministry of Curiosities series, is the story of Charlie Holloway, a young girl who has the power to command the dead. As a result of this ability, Charlie has spent the past several years living on the street after being turned out by her religious father. By masquerading as a boy, Charlie manages to stay safe and inconspicuous….until the day she finds herself in a tough spot that forces her to reveal her abilities. As you might expect, reanimating a corpse doesn’t make the list of Top Ten Things to Do When Trying to Fly Under the Radar, so it’s not long before Charlie finds herself captured by a secret society who has big plans for her powers.

The society, known as the Ministry of Curiosities, investigates paranormal crimes and is in hot pursuit of a scientist bent on creating an army of corpses for his own nefarious purposes. In order for the scientist to create said army, he needs a necromancer, and it’s up to the Ministry to make sure that none fall into his hands. This means tracking down and securing any and all known necromancers, a task that the Ministry wants Charlie to help them with.

The relationships in The Last Necromancer are the key to this book’s success. First of all, there are the interactions between Charlie and Lincoln Fitzroy, the leader of the Ministry of Curiosities. There’s a mutual wariness between the two of them, but there’s also a growing attraction that makes for some fun scenes. I loved watching the two of them maneuver around one another, each trying to feel the other one out and discover their respective secrets. Fitzroy is cool, dangerous, and mysterious, and Charlie’s attempts to push past his defenses are alternately amusing and sexy.

Much as I liked the simmering tension between Fitzroy and Charlie, there’s another relationship in this story that I liked even more: the one between Seth and Gus, two of Fitzroy’s lackeys. It’s rare for a fictional friendship to top a fictional romance for me, but C.J. Archer is a pro at writing camaraderie and banter. I found myself anxiously awaiting scenes where Seth and Gus were present because I couldn’t wait to see what crazy things they’d say or do next. The two of them rib each other mercilessly and keep up a steady stream of jests throughout the book. Here’s one exchange between the two:

“That ain’t fair.”
“Life isn’t fair. If it were, I’d be spending my evenings deflowering virgins instead of cleaning up the sick of a gutter snipe.”
“Ha! You couldn’t deflower a flower.”
“That doesn’t make sense. And I’ll have you know, the ladies fell over themselves to get to me when I used to attend balls.”
“You had money and a good name then,” Gus said, striding for the door. “Course they’re going to throw themselves at you. Weren’t nothing to do with that ugly face of yours.”
Seth looked offended, and I couldn’t blame him. He wasn’t ugly in the least. He trailed after Gus. “I’ll have you know I had an indecent encounter with a lady three nights ago. And no, I didn’t pay her a penny. She gave herself freely to me.”
“Gave you the French disease for free, more like.” Gus’s chuckles faded as he closed the door.

Seth and Gus add wonderful humor to The Last Necromancer, but they’re not just there for comic relief. You don’t get a ton of backstory on either of the guys, but they still come across feeling like fully developed flesh-and-blood men. Their relationship feels so natural and comfortable, and it shines as one of the most outstanding aspects of this novel.

The paranormal parts of The Last Necromancer are well done, but I found myself much more invested in the people linked to the Ministry of Curiosities than in the curiosities themselves. The search for the evil scientist and the mystery of whether the Ministry can be trusted are interesting, but the personal lives of the ministry members are what really drew me into this story. I was so absorbed by watching Charlie try to crack Lincoln Fitzroy’s composure, or listening to Seth and Gus bicker back and forth, or speculating about the potential romantic history between Fitzroy and Lady Harcourt, that I couldn’t have cared less about the occult affairs of the Ministry. It could have been devoted to ornithology or flower arrangements, for all I cared – I would have loved this book regardless.

I had a lot of fun reading The Last Necromancer and can’t wait to see where Archer takes the characters in the next installment, Her Majesty’s Necromancer. If this series is any indication of how great Archer’s other books are, I need to read the rest of her work immediately.

And now, a few bonus quotes, from this book because they make me smile. J

“Think of us as the sword of the empire,” Seth said, puffing out his chest. “And Mr. Fitzroy is the pointy end.”

And:

“You’re a tosspot.”
He grunted. “I expect a gutter dweller to come up with something more offensive than that.”
“A fucking tosspot.”
“Better.”

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Author photo for C.J. ArcherAbout C.J. Archer

C.J. Archer has loved history and books for as long as she can remember and feels fortunate that she found a way to combine the two with her writing. Under her other name of Carolyn Scott, she has published contemporary short stories in women’s magazines, and she also writes romantic mystery novels under this name.

She has at various times worked as a librarian, IT support person and technical writer but in her heart has always been a fiction writer. She has won and placed in romance writing contests including winning RWAustralia’s Emerald Award in 2008 for the manuscript that went on to be released under the title HONOR BOUND. C.J. spent her early childhood in the dramatic beauty of outback Queensland, Australia, but now lives in suburban Melbourne with her husband and two children.

To be notified when C.J. releases a new book, subscribe to her newsletter from her website. She only sends out the newsletter when she releases a new book, and never spams.

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Giveaway

C.J. Archer is generously giving away a copy of The Last Necromancer! To enter the giveaway, which is open to readers in the U.S. and Canada, please fill out the Rafflecopter below.

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Review: Dodger by Terry Pratchett

Dodger Book Cover Dodger
Terry Pratchett

A storm. Rain-lashed city streets. A flash of lightning. A scruffy lad sees a girl leap desperately from a horse-drawn carriage in a vain attempt to escape her captors. Can the lad stand by and let her be caught again? Of course not, because he's...Dodger.

Seventeen-year-old Dodger may be a street urchin, but he gleans a living from London's sewers, and he knows a jewel when he sees one. He's not about to let anything happen to the unknown girl--not even if her fate impacts some of the most powerful people in England.

From Dodger's encounter with the mad barber Sweeney Todd to his meetings with the great writer Charles Dickens and the calculating politician Benjamin Disraeli, history and fantasy intertwine in a breathtaking account of adventure and mystery.

Beloved and bestselling author Sir Terry Pratchett combines high comedy with deep wisdom in this tale of an unexpected coming-of-age and one remarkable boy's rise in a complex and fascinating world.

Review:

I don’t usually presume to speak for famous authors, let alone one as prestigious as Charles Dickens. In this case, however, I feel justified in saying that Dickens would probably have been very, very pleased with Terry Pratchett’s Dodger.

Pratchett’s reimagining of The Artful Dodger, who appears in Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist, is nothing short of a masterpiece. This story is packed with everything I love in a book: a charming, clever scallywag of a main character; a colorful and unforgettable supporting cast; tongue-in-cheek wit; inside jokes that you may only get after reading the book for a second time; and a setting that is so unique and well described that it’s practically a character in its own right.

We first meet our scrappy protagonist when he springs from the London sewers on a stormy night to rescue a young woman being beaten in the street. This feat brings Dodger to the attention of Charlie Dickens and his friend Henry Mayhew, who happen to be passing by at the time and assist Dodger in taking the unconscious lady to safety.

Dodger, infuriated by the treatment of the beautiful, mysterious girl, refuses to rest until her attackers are brought to justice. Assisted by Dickens and a motley assortment of waifs and urchins, Dodger sets forth to track down the people responsible for the girl’s mistreatment and do whatever it takes to secure her safety.

It’s usually characters that make or break a book for me, but in the case of Dodger it’s actually the setting that made me fall in love. This isn’t to say that Dodger doesn’t have fantastic characters – it does, and I’ll get to them in a minute. However, the setting is so spectacular, so vividly drawn, that it outshines everything else in the book, even its charming hero.

Like Dickens, Pratchett has a gift for bringing 19th-century London, in all its glory and filth, to life on the page. The sounds and smells and tastes of London permeate the book until you can actually hear the coaches rattling by and smell the fog rolling in from the Thames. It’s a world of chimney sweeps and violet sellers, pickpockets and Punch and Judy puppet shows, prostitutes and games of Crown and Anchor at the local pub. There are a million little details that build the “character” of London and enrich the story, from the slang the street urchins use (“cove,” “tosher,” and “Bobbies”/ “Peelers” are a few of my favorites) to descriptions of the weather:

“The rain was falling faster now, rain that was undeniably London rain, already grubby before it hit the ground, putting back on the streets what had been taken away by the chimneys. It tasted like licking a dirty penny.”

Pratchett does more than simply paint a picture of London; he paints it in a way that is insightful and entertaining. Dodger is filled with observations that are as amusing as they are astute, such as this description of the Thames: “[One] could only call what was in the river ‘water’ because it was too runny to be called ‘dirt.” There’s a great deal of tongue-in-cheek humor, not just in the story itself but also in the helpful and hilarious footnotes that are used to explain certain words and facts within the book.

The setting may be my absolute favorite part of Dodger, but the characters come in at a close second. I’ve always been delighted by crafty, mischievous characters, and Dodger fits the bill perfectly. He’s scrappy, resourceful, and a skillful actor, able to produce tears on demand or charm the pants off of a well-to-do passerby. He’s an all-around fun, hilarious, and wily protagonist, and I couldn’t have loved him more if I tried. Although he’s a little rough around the edges and liable to pick your pocket as soon as look at you, Dodger’s what the folks in this book would call a “decent cove.” He’s always quick to jump to the aid of the defenseless, even if it means donning a dress in order to save a group of young flower girls:

“And so when the sharp-suited gentlemen who liked to go down among the poor flower girls to see if there were any new blossoms they could pluck came to ply them with strong liquor until they could have their wicked way with them, they would actually be subtly directed to the shrinking and simpering violet who was, in fact, Dodger.

Actually, he had to admit that he had been incredibly good at it, because to be a geezer was to be an actor and so Dodger was better at being a shrinking violet than any of the other flower girls who had, how could you put it, better qualifications. He had already sold quite a lot of his violets because his voice hadn’t broken then and he could make himself a real little virgin when he wanted to. After a few hours of this, the girls tipped him off to the whereabouts of a particularly nasty dandy who always hung around the smaller girls, and who was heading towards him with his nice coat and his cane, jingling the money in his pockets. And the street applauded when a suddenly rather athletic little flower girl grabbed the smarmy bastard, punched him, dragged him into an alley and made certain that he would not be able to jingle anything in his pockets for some time to come.”

The secondary characters in Dodger are spectacular as well. Historical figures make cameo appearances, such as Benjamin Disraeli, Angela Burdetts-Coutts, Robert Peel, and John Tenniel. There’s also a cast of fictional – but no-less-interesting – characters with fun names like Mary-Go-Round, Messy Bessie, and Stumpy Higgins who play small yet memorable roles in the story.

Dodger‘s phenomenal setting and smart, hilarious characters make this book a definite must-read. My enjoyment of this novel grows every time I read it, something I intend to keep doing as often as possible.