The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett. ★★★★★
This is a stand alone YA book. However, it’s also the twenty-eighth book in the Discworld series. You can read it as either one and find things to enjoy.
A talking cat named Maurice devises a scam: get his sentient rat friends to infest a city then get this stupid looking kid he found to play a pipe. The rats all leave, the kid gets a reward, and the money’s gets split. Perfect, right? Unfortunately, the rats have now learned the word “ethical,” and Maurice is forced to agree that Bad Blintz will be the last town they con. But Bad Blintz already has a rat problem, and beneath the streets they will find a nightmare world of traps and poisons, with something evil lurking in the shadows.
There is something very important about The Amazing Maurice. Are you with me? Because here it is: DO NOT DISMISS THIS BOOK JUST BECAUSE IT HAS TALKING ANIMALS. Yes, there’s a talking cat and rats. That does not in any way mean this book is infantile or for children. It’s possibly the most under appreciated novel in the Discworld series for this reason.
“The trouble with thinking was that, once you started, you went on doing it.”
If there’s one reason to read The Amazing Maurice it’s the rats. Having suddenly gained intelligence due to eating wizard’s garbage, the rats find before them a whole new world of ideas and thought. They have to figure out what it means to be rats, how to form a civilization without just becoming “little humans.” They begin asking questions like “What’s the part of me that dreams at night?”, “What happens after you die?”, and “Where did we come from?”. They begin forming their own myths and religion. In short, the story of the rats is the story of what it means to be people.
So,” said the rat who’d raised the whole question about the invisible part, “when you wake up, where does the dreaming part go? When you die, where does that bit that’s inside you go?”
As always with Terry Pratchett books, I really love the characters. The rats include Dangerous Beans, a bright young rat who’s an explorer in the realm of ideas; Peaches, his argumentative assistant; Sardines, who dances his way through life; Hamnpork, the old rat alpha who’s not entirely comfortable with all this thinking nowadays; Darktan, the leader of trap squad who makes the tunnels safe for the clan; and Nourishing, young and with no confidence. All these individuals feel fully formed and realized, and I loved reading about them.
Maurice himself goes through quite a lot of character growth over the course of the story. He starts out a greedy conman and by the end he’s… well, still a conman but one who’s become more selfless. The weakest characters were probably Keith, the piper, and Malica, the mayor’s daughter, just don’t feel as fully developed as Maurice or the rats. However, Malica’s obsession with stories and the belief that she lived in one did lead to some rather wonderful quotes.
“If you don’t turn your life into a story, you just become a part of someone else’s story.”
There’s a lot of darkness in The Amazing Maurice, from the menacing shadows of the rats labyrinthine tunnels to the impoverished town above. Humans and rats are at war. Can there ever be peace? But if there’s one thing I love about Terry Pratchett, it’s how his characters can be surrounded by darkness but not give into it.
“I am not so blind that I can’t see darkness.”
I would recommend The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents to everyone. If you want to try out a Discworld book, this may very well be the place to start.