on October 30, 2008
I have always been told that, as a fan of fantasy and humor, I needed to read Terry Pratchett. And after reading THE AMAZING MAURICE AND HIS EDUCATED RODENTS, I now understand what everyone was talking about. Pratchett's style is simultaneously witty, entertaining, and incisive; he succeeds in this children's book in saying more about society than most adult books ever manage, and he does so while making you laugh out loud.
Set in an obscure corner of Discworld, the fantasy world in which Pratchett has written numerous other books for adults, a cat named Maurice discovers suddenly the ability to talk--and not just to talk, but to think and to reason. Maurice believes himself to be the only animal afflicted with this talent, until he discovers a group of rats living in the city dump who have also miraculously achieved the ability of speech and thought. As Maurice is emphatic about his promise to never eat anything that can talk, he and the talking rats get along rather well. Soon, along with the help of an orphan boy named Keith who was raised by a musician's guild, Maurice sets upon a scheme to make some easy money, and the rats go along in their belief that they may someday find a place where they will be free to live as talking rats without the fear of being hunted by humans.
Maurice's plan is simple. If the rats will go and infest a town, wreaking havoc for the space of a few days, the town leaders will be sure to call a rat piper to remove the rats from the town. Then it's Keith's job to show up, pipe the rats away, and receive a generous fee for his troubles, one that the rats and Maurice will share. Keith, Maurice, and the rats go like this from town to town...until they reach the town of Bad Blintz, and everything stops working as planned.
The story is populated by humorous characters that you can't help but take seriously. Maurice's sly cunning is undermined by the fact that he meticulously questions any rat he comes across before eating it, in order to keep up his first promise to the talking rats. The rats themselves are amusing individuals, self-named after the first things they could read in that city dump where they originated, so that the story is populated by creatures who go by Hamnpork, Darktan, Sardines, and Dangerous Beans. But under these hilarious names, they are at heart a people trying to figure out their own origins and explain the things they don't yet understand about their sudden ability to speak, and what that means for their future.
I would recommend this book to anyone who's not afraid to laugh, and anyone who's not afraid to think hard about the ramifications of being a person--or rat, or cat--capable of speech, thought, and reason.
Reviewed by: Candace Cunard
On the Discworld, even wizards produce leftovers. Their discarded garbage, however, is laced with traces of magic. Out on the tip, the rats forage in the scraps - apple cores, candle stubs [good carbohydrate source], dogends. Like any trace mineral, the magic builds up until the rats have changed, gaining new talents. Among those talents are speaking and reading. Speaking allows them to communicate better while the reading gives them words to use as names. They're an organized group now, and they have an ambition. They want to find a safe place for retirement. They have a mentor, Maurice, a cat who shares their talents, but has an extra one of his own - he's a con cat. And he has a story hidden away.
A street smart feline, Maurice has learned the value of money. He knows how humans use it, and he wants the independence it offers. To gain it, he's organized the rats and adopted Keith, a rather simple human, into his group. Together, they work the towns to create a "plague of rats" then provide a piper, Keith, to lure them away - for cash. Despite disputes over percentages, the team has scored many successful ventures. But Keith, and the rats, are having misgivings over the ethics of the con. They want to quit, and Bad Blintz will be the last place they work the con.
Every venture has its risks. Bad Blintz is clearly not a rich place. The villagers queue up for bread and sausages, which are in short supply. There are rat catchers who carry strings of tails, but the team can't find a live rat anywhere in the maze of cellars and tunnels beneath the town. In resolving this conundrum, team encounters a powerful new force - one that challenges all the skills given them by the wizards' residue magic. Their very survival rests on how they deal with the mystery. Its resolution is consummately Pratchett.
Terry Pratchett's books increasingly delve into philosophical questions, even moral ones. It would be nice to know if he actually intended this book for "children." You'll note above that the publishers call for "Reader Level Ages 9 - 12," but the editorial reviews say "12 and up." The disparity is typical Pratchett. Why the lack of consensus? One guess is that Pratchett thinks the adult mind set is too rigid to discern the point he's making. This book isn't a fantasy about "talking animals," it's a spur to stimulate thinking about the relationship of humanity to the rest of the animal kingdom. We're part of that kingdom, but we deal with our relations in ignorance. Children, and a few adults, are best suited to begin revising that approach. With human society devastating the habitats of so many creatures, a new way of thinking about them is required. Pratchett's conclusion shows that the process won't be simple and we have to start thinking now about how to do it. Who better to start with than children? They still have the capacity to learn.
It's almost superfluous to discuss Pratchett's writing. He's a master of language and a skilled manipulater of ideas. If you are new to his work, this is a fine place to start. If you're an established fan, there's nothing here to disappoint you. Add this book to your library and buy another for someone. Anyone. They'll surely be grateful.
on December 1, 2001
This is set in Discworld, but the tone and satire of the other Discworld novels is missing. The book appears to be written for an 8th grade reader, (high Harry Potter to low George Orwell). The story was a little more serious than The Rats of NIMH, but an easier read than Tailchaser's Song. I don't recommend it to adults, nor is it a "junior" introduction to Discworld for the junior high reader. It is a quiet, solid, story. If you are looking for the humor of Discworld, you'll be disappointed
on April 3, 2002
The latest in Terry Pratchett's wry, bizarre, exciting, and impossible to put down Discworld series, The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents is a humorous yet compelling story of a cat and his boy, as well as a tribe of rats who have all gained sentience due to the accidental side effects of wizardly machinations. The cat has also been blessed or cursed with sentience - for how is a cat ever meant to be capable of pondering the distinction between right and wrong, predator and prey? And now that the rats have the ability to think for themselves, they must find a new way of living, for they are no longer like ordinary rats in this superb, fascinating story that parallels "The Secret of NIMH" but with a closer reflection of true human nature - even as human nature can apply to cats and rodents. Terry Pratchett's Discworld series has been first-rate reading since its debut with "The Colour of Magic," and the latest in this proud, funny, and often insightful series does not disappoint. A "must" for the legions of Terry Pratchett fans!
on March 18, 2002
Once again Terry Pratchett reaches into is back of tricks and pulls out a rat named Dangerous Beans or another rat called Sardines (a dancing rat, mind you), or a street cat called Maurice, or a young woman named Malicia and even a boy named Keith. Keith? Must be a slip up. Let's see, the story all started when some ordinary rats got into the Magic College's trash heap and ate some thing that gave them brains. Well, a lot more brains than they had before.
And then a hungry cat ate one of the rats and suddenly it was getting regular headaches and making a point of not eating anything that talks. Maurice, being a practically minded cat, immediately saw the possibilities, and recruited Keith, who was a bit dumb looking but could play the pipes. Suddenly the troop was on the road, working the old pied piper scam, and making good money at it. Dangerous Beans was their spiritual guide, their thinker of Big Thoughts, the rest take care of undoing traps, spotting poison and widdling on things, etc. In no time, town after town was anteing up to get rid of their rats.
The only drawback was that one couldn't very well work the same trick in the same place twice, so eventually the gang found themselves in the town of Bad Blintz. And this town was just a bit different. For one thing the resident rats had eaten all the food, but there weren't any resident rats to be found. For another thing, the resident rat catchers seemed to be making rat tails out of shoestrings. And there is something really, really bad in the cellars beneath the city. Worst of all, Malicia the mayor's daughter also lives in Bad Blintz.
If the above description gives you a clear idea of what 'The Amazing Maurice...' is about I've done my job poorly. Suffice it to say that a group of rats that do a much better job of being people than people do find themselves in a battle to save the town and, perhaps, life as we know it. Once again Pratchett has created a morality tale out of sarcasm and parody. One that can surprise us by touching our hearts unexpectedly. In Discworld, where nothing works quite like it should, things still manage to work out well (well, most of the time... for some people).
This tale is funny and likeable. While intended for young adults it works just as well for old youngsters like me. Even the strange references to Mr. Bunnsey and Ratty Rupert are fun. Just don't eat that green wobbly bit.
on January 5, 2002
Once upon a time there were rats who ate a little too much from rubbish heap behind the Wizards' university. They were Changed, and learned to think, to talk and, later on, to develop a conscience. They named themselves after things they saw in the rubbish, perhaps a little before they knew what the words meant. Pratchett is a good enough writer that rats like Dangerous Beans, Peaches, Darktan, Hamnpork and Donut Enter are a lot more vivid and believable than 9/10ths of what passes for literature today.
Maurice is a cat, and he is also Changed, although he really doesn't like to talk about how it happened. But he's always careful now to ask his food if it can talk before her eats it. He's the brains behind the scam.
Together with the stupid-looking kid who plays the flute - his name is really Keith - the rats and Maurice work the pied piper scam. For a modest fee, Keith can get rid of the sudden plague of rats that afflicts a town. And what with rats widdling in the flour and tap-dancing on the kitchen counter - there's always someone who wants to be in theater - the town is always grateful when Keith successfully pipes the rats away.
Until they arrive at the town of Bad Blintz. The traps are worse, the poisons more lethal and the rat catchers more ingenious than anywhere else. And there is something really evil living lower down, under the rat tunnels. Something that hates. Something that takes you over.
Pratchett has called this a children's book, but it would be more accurate to say it was based on a children's book. It's really about myths and the role of myths, and what it means to be "human." As just one example, the rats drag along with them a collection of children's fairy tales, remarkably like Peter Rabbit, and think it's a reference book for humans. The Pied Piper of Hamlin, of course, is itself a fairy tale. With (or perhaps despite) the "help" of Malicia, the Mayor's daughter and the granddaughter and grand niece of the Sisters Grim, the rats, Maurice and the stupid-looking kid must learn the hard way that if you aren't making up your own story, then you're just a character in someone else's.
Fun and thought-provoking, if somewhat different than the usual Pratchett novel. Recommended.
on December 24, 2001
For "The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents", Terry Pratchett's 28th Discworld book, he states in the Author's Note at the end that he did a lot of research into rats before writing this book. It shows.
This also marks Pratchett's first Discworld book for the young adult set. It actually serves as a pretty good introduction to the Discworld, giving us an entirely new set of characters to play with thart aren't bogged down in the already established Discworld cosmology (save the necessary cameo by Death, the famous anthropomorphic personification).
The story is a spin, obviously, on The Pied Piper of Hamlin, but with Pratchett's usual fairy-tale-crashes-head-on-into-real-world take on things. The rats (and cat) talk - and scheme and scam - but do so in a way completely at odds with the standard Disney-like children's book characters. They're really more characters trying to come to terms with being saddled with things they never wanted - like sentience - than anthropomorphic animals. In fact, stories like Peter Cottontail (and the Brothers Grimm) are parodied throughout the book.
In keeping with Pratchett's previously mentioned belief in previous books that kids are just as capable (if not more, in some cases) of dealing with nastiness, death and general unpleasantness, Pratchett doesn't really pull any punches in his narrative. He treats rats as they really are - smelly, foul, incontinent sometime cannibals. That's not to say that, like all of his protagonists, they're not actually good beings - they're just not cute, fluffy and sweet.
However, all this said, it's still a story about humankind - and ratkind - triumphing over it's baser beliefs and practices. It's a great story and which, as with all of Pratchett's best books - deals out humor, suspense and creepiness in equal measure. I recommend it for kids, adults, Discworld fans and those new to the series. It's as good as any Discworld book he's done so far and it doesn't need the established background to tell a great story.
on December 12, 2001
Maurice (a talking cat), Keith the stupid-looking kid, and a clan of intelligent talking rats have a good thing going. Keith can play the penny-whistle and the rats can manage a rat infestation better than anyone. The Pied Piper had nothing on their scam. At least until the rats' increasing intelligence starts to come with the price of a conscience. They finally agree on one last job--but the existing rat catchers in Bad Blintz (author Terry Pratchett always picks good town names) have their own plots going and their schemes look like bad news for Maurice and the clan.
Pratchett has created a tongue-in-cheek fairy tale set in his Discworld. The rats and Maurice struggle with the dawning of conscience--Maurice always gives his victims a chance to talk before he eats them, with their place in the world, and with the powerful rat-king who wants to use their power for war against the humans.
Human characters, especially Keith and Malicia, play supporting roles but the real stars in this novel. Malicia's (often successful) attempts to create a story out of life frustrate Keith while providing worthwhile lessons (if you aren't making the story, you're a bit character in someone else's story) for both other characters and the readers. Overall, though, the rats--all given amusing names they selected from reading labels (Dangerous Beans is a favorite) are the most interesting characters and characters with the most compelling character arcs.
I sat down to read THE AMAZING MAURICE AND HIS EDUCATED RODENTS, and didn't get up until I'd finished it--with a lot of laughs in the process. This novel probably won't change your life, but it just might.
on November 13, 2001
Its a Discworld tale aimed at younger readers (ages 9-12) but I dont care. Its a DISCWORLD novel, people! Besides, if kids can enjoy the "regular" Discworld books, why cant an adult enjoy this one?
Terry Pratchett (TP) does not patronise his target audience in this novel. The storyline tackles heavy issues but done in such a way that it wont turn off the younger mindset. Such is TP's creativity that he's able to tell a tale for his younger fans without appearing to be a doddering old man preaching to the kiddies. In fact, his fans of all ages will laugh themselves silly at the ever present humour, though the young 'uns will enjoy it more as the references are more recognisable to them.
The regular Discworld characters do not make an appearance (Death has a cameo, though) but again that does not affect the story for veteran Disc fans...although events that happened in other Disc books are hinted at, which is nice. Besides, this is an "Amazing Maurice" novel, so let the cat and his rats shine.
TP has parodied Shakespeare's plays, Hollywood, politics, murder mysteries and err...Australia in his previous works and this time its the turn of the Brothers Grimm 'Pied Piper' fairy tale. Maurice the cat runs a very profitable scam involving the rodents and a naive kid who can play a pipe but this being a Discworld book, things soon go pear-shaped real quick. There is evil about and it does not like cats.
All in all, TP has once again created lovable characters to populate the Discworld and join the ranks of fan favourites like DEATH, the Patrician, Granny Weatherwax, Commander Vimes and the Librarian (oook!). I hope there will be other books featuring Maurice and/or the rats in either the regular Discworld books or this "Young Readers" set.
My only criticism is the cover. Why oh why do the Discworld novels published in the US cant have great cover art like its UK counterpart??? This novel suffers the same fate as the regular Disc novels published in the US -- boring covers. Go to amazon.co.uk to see what I mean.
on November 8, 2001
Despite the 9-12 suggested reading age that Amazon lists, this book is a lot more adult than I expected. I figured that the story would be dumbed down for the children, but I bought it anyway because I'm a Pratchett fanboi.
Well, I was wrong. The story is easily on par with Pratchett's other Discworld novels, and doesn't appear to be dumbed down in the least. I didn't laugh as much reading this novel as I have when reading some of his previous works, but that's probably because this story is just a tad darker than some of the other Discworld novels. Still, it was a very enjoyable read, and I highly recommend it.