Finished Terry Pratchett’s latest Discworld book, The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, yesterday. This is a putative Young Adult novel; you can tell Pratchett’s YAs from his adult novels because 1) the YAs are a bit shorter; 2) they have chapters; and 3) they are at least as dark as any of the adult novels (and much darker than most).
The rodents of the title aren’t actually Educated, though they’re getting there; they’re rats that ate something off the dump behind the wizards’ university and became sentient. Maurice, a cat, was also Changed. Together with a stupid-looking kid who plays the pipes, they’ve been running a Pied Piper scam; the rats have discovered ethical scruples, though, and plan to make the next town their last. This town apparently has a real rat problem, and with the dubious help of the mayor’s daughter (a perfectly horrible girl convinced everything is a story), they soon discover that something is quite wrong.
The story feels very dark, even though it’s on a much smaller scale than the end of the world (which happens practically every other book on the Discworld). Part of the reason is that the rats are struggling throughout with building a civilization from scratch, with all the attendant questions of ethics, morality, and religion that the newly-intelligent must confront. The scale might be small, but the stakes are both high and very relevant to human concerns.
The problem I have with the book, though, is that a key element isn’t explained and doesn’t seem to comply with the Discworld’s general rules and logic. (The Discworld is undoubtedly a daft place, but given its premises, the results do follow.) I can think of a couple of half-assed ways in which this element might have come about, but they’re just that, half-assed—and what’s more, I don’t think I should have to come up with my own explanation of something so central to the story. Which is definitely a pity and not at all what I’m used to in a Pratchett story.