May 24, 2011

[Books] The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated RodentsSometime back my Mom asked me to check out the Redwall series of books to determine if it was any good. We normally got into little reading ventures like this as part of her efforts to figure out if these were books that my younger brother could read (and seriously if they were any good). We had done this previously with Harry Potter books and then this series followed.

I just couldn't wrap my head around it and I never really liked the series. Heck, I never even finished the book. I suppose it's something like what my friend feels about anthropomorphic animals in general. It just seemed a bit too strange to me to have to enjoy adventures involving various rodents and other animals laying siege to other castles and the like.

When I first saw this book, I was a tad worried about what it might be like. As much as I love Terry Pratchett's Discworld books, this one seemed to dance a bit too closely to the area of talking mice engaged in little adventures. But in this first venture of a Discworld book targeted younger audiences, again Pratchett found a most interesting way to spin this sort of an animal-centric tale.

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents marks the 28th Discworld novel and the first young adult novel written for the series. Like all other Discworld books, it was written by Sir Terry Pratchett and it won the Carnegie Medal back in 2001.

In this case, Maurice is actually a cat that has gained the ability to think and talk. He travels with a group of similarly-sentient rats that he refers to as his "educated rodents" and a young human boy who acts as their pretend piper. The run a con job of routinely hitting downs with fake rat infestations until the town calls for a rat piper to send them away. The boy does the routine, the rats follow him out of town and they all go away a bit richer. Naturally, the cat is the sort of mastermind of the group.

The group though has grown weary of this constant routine of criminal activity and have forced Maurice to agree that this next job will be their last one. But as they enter the town of Bad Blintz in Überwald, they start to discover that the town isn't quite like any other that they've struck. First, the town is suffering from significant poverty supposedly due to on-going rat activity. But when the educated rodents start to explore the underbelly of the city, they can't seem to find any other mice or rodents and instead find increasingly deadly traps and poisons. And there's something else that lurks in the sewers of the city, something that neither Maurice nor any member of his band have ever encountered before.

LONDON - FEBRUARY 18:  Author Sir Terry Pratch...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeThe book does the amazing job (at least for people like me) to make these rats actually endearing as characters. And they certainly provided quite a range of characters to learn about and meet, each with their own little personalities and quirks. Take for example Dangerous Beans, a mostly-blind albino rat who acts as the group's philosopher and the one who dedicates the most time to understand what their new sentience means. He's normally accompanied by Peaches, who is both scribe and the one trying to develop their own system of writing that captures Dangerous Beans' new and diverse thoughts. There's Darktan, the head of the anti-traps division who is a bit of a cavalier hero. And there's Sardines, the over-enthusiastic rat who is unable to contain his desire to tap-dance, perform and generally bewilder any human who catches one of his performances.

And on the human side, we still have some pretty interesting protagonists. One is the piper boy, who is later revealed to have a name - Keith. And you have the Mayor's daughter, Malicia, who is the young storyteller with a hyperactive imagination. It's hilarious how she constantly attempts to analyze their real-life experiences using story archetypes and patterns as her basis for comparison. Yes, all of life can match some sort of story or fable on some fundamental level, can't it?

And more than the rats just being intelligent and being capable of speaking, the book does explore what happens with a group of animals like this suddenly gain sentience. Thus amidst all the simple adventures and the like, the book also explores a lot of what it means to be self-aware. The rats aren't just coping with survival anymore - they're challenged with creating a new civilization for rats and understanding what that means. It seems like a bit much for a young adult book (or any book for that matter), but Pratchett managed to weave the tale together in a manner that remains accessible to any reader.

While I don't think this is my favorite book just yet, it's certainly one of the more impressive ones that I've encountered since I started reading the Discworld books. And this is in spite of the fact that I was expecting to hate the book given the talking rats element.

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents is a clear example of how Sir Terry Pratchett continues to push the limits of his writing and what kind of stories are "appropriate" for young adults. It gets 4 interesting diagrams created by Peaches out of a possible 5.

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