My own unapologetic opinions on books and writing.
by David Weston
After reading several samples of Artful Dodger books, I decided I liked the voice and writing on this one and bought it. I got quickly caught up and continued to enjoy it.
I did think the author tried too hard to work in recognized Dickens characters and associations and some of the dates and terms that don't fit the era or were too American (like washcloth, cracked jokes, etc.) don't quite add up, but I let these things slide because the story itself held my attention and I really enjoyed reading it.
The premise takes up where Oliver Twist left off, with Dodger getting shipped to Australia. His adventures aboard ship and after he reaches his destination are what you would expect from the character and the characterization is done well. Belief was strained a little with some of the characters who were also on board because as I said, they just didn't add up. One was from a different decade of the century, another was likely to spend a lot of time where she had last been seen in a mental hospital and the recovery was too miraculous to accept. This continued almost to the end where more familiar names turn up and the Theatre Royal in Sydney is being planned in 1832 when it actually opened in 1827, but nevermind. I think the story would have been better without shoehorning other Dickens characters in.
Other things that bothered me were the reference to half a year to make the voyage when prison ships typically took about 70 days and a failure to notice the complete change of season after crossing the Equator.
The new characters who were introduced were very well defined and were a big part of what kept the story so interesting. There were allies who garnered the reader's sympathy and enemies I really wanted to see get their comeuppance, and in the middle of it all the winsome little pickpocket lad who continues to fascinate both readers and writers well into the twenty-first century.
One of the themes of the story is about Dodger looking for his father in Australia. I felt this was handled well, especially with typical Dickensian coincidence giving him an essential lead!
There was an overlong sequence about the game Cricket that will have lost anyone not familiar with the game, and some who are. What puzzled me is that the author is English, yet he kept referring to a match as a game like an American. Whether he has lived in the USA for a lot of years or intentionally wrote in American English I don't know, but it definitely grated on me when reading on this subject.
Despite that, I really did enjoy the story. The ending was too abrupt and indicated a sequel, but apart from that, the loose ends did get tied up and the journey was worth the effort.