First Published: 2002 by Corgi (Kindle ed. 2008)
My copy: Bought on Kindle
Memorable quote: “As the amazing Maurice said, it was just a story about people and rats. And the difficult part was deciding who the people were, and who were the rats.”
This is Pratchett’s suitably offbeat-yet-thought-provoking spin on the tale of the Pied Piper, and yes the rats are the stars. In true Discworld tradition, these rats aren’t just normal rats, they’re magical rats. Or more accurately, rats that have spent too long poking round the Wizards’ rubbish dump at the back of the Unseen University and have now found themselves “uplifted” – able to speak and read and think in a far more advanced manner than was previously the case. Advanced enough to give themselves names, read from the sides of the cans around them in the dump, hence this story stars rats called “Sardines, Darktan, Inbrine, Sellby” and my fave “Hamnpork.” Pratchett uses this novel to explore – among other things – the notion that the reason humans stereotypically hate rats so much is because rats are just so much like ourselves, and he also explores and satirises the fairy tale / folk tale genre as a whole. So although this is ostensibly a kid’s book there are some really deep and important messages bubbling away under the surface. It’s a great story, as funny as you’d expect from Pratchett but with some very moving scenes too – though possibly I speak from an extreme perspective as someone who invested far more emotion in the rat characters than the average reader might have done.
But speaking as a certified Crazy Rat Lady I can say I was impressed, Pratchett had done his homework and although, of course, real rats don’t talk, don’t read, and don’t name themselves after words on tins, the way these rats behaved – particularly in their struggles between their rational “uplifted” thoughts and baser “natural” instincts – was very convincingly rat-like. In short, I loved this book but – as a rat-lover and a huge Pratchett fan to boot -there was never any doubt really that I would. The only surprise is that it took me this long to get round to buying it!