“You pretend that rats can think, and I’ll promise to pretend that humans can think, too.”
A rat to a man, from The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents by Sir Terry Pratchett
The Changelings – a clan of educated rats – know a lot about people. People know little about rats except that they steal food and cause plagues. When the Changelings arrive to a town that suffers from a shortage of food, they find, as expected, townspeople who hate rats and want to see them gone, by whatever means that takes. But no one is prepared for what else they’ll find in the town.
On one level, “The Pied Piper of … Discworld” is a humorous take on famous fairy-tales. Both sides assume that their opponents will react like they do in fairy-tales, and the “fun” is that nothing happens as prescribed. On another level, the story deals with animal cruelty and its consequences. Survival is tricky when the bad guys do more than getting rid of rats with poison and traps.
Maurice is a wily adviser with a lot of personality. It’s impossible not to root for the cat who is grappling with his guilty conscience:
“Maurice tried to tell his thoughts to shut up. What a time to get a conscience! What good was a cat with a conscience? A cat with a conscience was a … a hamster, or something.”
His sidekick is a kid who is happy to be left alone with his music. Keith in his own words:
“I may be stupid-looking,” Keith added, “but I’m not stupid. I have time to think about things because I don’t keep on talking all the time. I listen. I try to learn….”
While it’s easy to like Maurice and Keith from the start, it took me a while to warm up to the other (mostly female) characters. At first impression, Malicia isn’t an endearing girl.
“It seemed to Maurice, while he was watching Malicia make up her mind, that her mind worked in a different way from other people’s minds. She understood all the hard things without even thinking. Magical rats? Yeah, yeah. Talking cats? Been there, done that. It was the simple things that were hard.”
A young rat named Nourishing makes an awful first impression when she ventures to ask a question during a briefing by the leader of trap disposal team. His response:
“Are you new in this platoon, Nourishing?” said Darktan.
“Yes, sir! Transferred out of the Light Widdlers, sir!”
“Ah, they thought you’d be good at trap disposal, did they?”
Nourishing looked uneasy, but there was no going back now. “Er … not really, sir. They said I couldn’t be any worse than I am at widdling, sir.”
It’s almost needless to say that by the end of the book, Malicia and Nourishing are not the same as they were in the beginning. Other protagonists may not change much, but they are interesting and each has unique personality (and none as hilarious as the tap dancing Sardines). As a group, the “educated rodents” have a strong sense of community, and their dreams are shared by many persecuted people. Together with one amazing cat and a pair of unusual kids, they must outwit unscrupulous rat-catchers, escape from cellars, traps, and poisons, and survive something sinister and evil that lurks in the dark.
The humor, the unexpected turns and twists, and most of all the characters combine into an amazing story I intend to reread. Highly recommended!