(For a complete list of Pratchett reviews, see The Great Pratchett Reading Project Table.)
REVIEW SUMMARY: Funny and surprisingly meaty.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A talking cat named Maurice, a human kid and an army of talking rats aim to con a town via a Pied Piper scam.
PROS: Humorous, laugh-out-loud funny; excellent characterizations; dark tone.
CONS: Some slow parts.
BOTTOM LINE: A funny and worthwhile read, but not for younger kids.
The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents is my first Terry Pratchett book. (I know, I know…I just have to read a Discworld book.) I suppose I started with this title because, well, I was looking for something a little lighter than my last read and this young adult title seemed to fit the bill. This was definitely lighter, but in no way did that mean it did not contain some adult themes and even, lo and behold, some morals.
The story takes a conniving talking rat named Maurice, an army of talking rats and a human kid name Keith. Maurice devises a scheme to enact the Pied Piper folk tale on an unsuspecting town – an easy feat to accomplish when you are in collusion with a bunch of intelligent rodents. They are all set to pull their last big score on the town of Bad Blintz but soon realize that something is very strange: the town is devoid of the usual rat population and it is home to a particularly nasty creature whose goal is to destroy all humans. Will our roving band of ne’er-do-wells save the day?
Several things make this a compelling story.
First, Pratchett lives up to his reputation for humorous writing. There were many funny lines (mostly dialogue) and some of them even caused me to laugh out loud. It’s just a funny book.
Second, although this is marketed as young adult fiction, it’s dark, dark tone probably makes it unsuitable for younger kids. That said: it’s a surprisingly entertaining dark tone fit for older kids and adults.
Third, the anthropomorphism of the cat and rats, which I expected to be on the eye-rolling side of believability was not only believable, it was excellent. The animal characters are depicted so well, they are more three dimensional than the human characters in many other books. Maurice’s repartee was quite funny and gave him a lot of personality. (Also, Maurice has a firm rule about never eating a rodent that can talk.) All of the main characters, in fact, had some quality about them that made them three-dimensional, whether it was Dangerous Beans, the near-sighted white rat; Peaches, the rat who encourages ethical and moral behavior (outside of pulling Pied Piper scams apparently); Sardines the dancing rat; or Darktan, the young, tough militaristic rat. (Note: The rats named themselves after words they read off of discarded tin cans and such on the junk pile where they underwent The Change that made them able to talk.) Even the humans were great characters; Keith with his matter-of-fact innocence and Malicia, the Mayor’s daughter, with her penchant for applying story tropes to real life. But then again, her relatives are the Sisters Grim, after all.
Fourth, the story contains spurts of meaningful discussion on such topics as ethics, morality, souls, death and working out your differences. This caught me off guard since again I was expecting a lighter read. It was very welcome, though, and added depth to the story. Yes, very meaty, I’d say.
The narrative mostly moves along a fast pace but unfortunately there were a few slow parts. The action sequences, however, were very well done and sometimes page-turning – like when the rats in the dog-fighting pit, or when the thinking rats go to war with the native rats. And not to be left out of the action, Keith even gets a showdown scene with a real piper.
In the end, The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents is a funny and worthwhile read, just not for younger kids.