Let me say right off the top here that there is no way I will ever do this book justice. It is simply so utterly brilliant.
Okay, so I'd been on a streak of reading rather depressing things. Good stuff, but depressing stuff. I was craving something fun and light. For the last couple years, I'd been wanting to give Discworld a try, but balked because I just didn't know where to start. Nymeth kindly put up with all my questions about where to start and whatnot, and suggested that this book was the perfect choice, being a good stand-alone. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally put her advice to use. And did it meet my expectations? Well, yes and no. (In the sheer awesomeness category it surpassed them by like half a gazillion miles.) But as for fun and light... Well, fun gets a yes, yes, YES! Light, well, not so much. And by that, I don't for a single minute mean that it's heavy, tedious reading, or that it's obscure or pretentious...I just mean that it really has a lot to say. And in retrospect, I have to say I was an idiot for ever imagining that it would be a light, "fluffy" story...because Nymeth has the most remarkable gift for finding books that satisfy and delight and challenge on a number of levels. And that is exactly what this book does!
So what's it about? Well, let me quote from page 1, where that very question is addressed:
They fought the dogs and killed the cats, and--
But there was more to it that that. As the Amazing Maurice said it was just a story about people and rats. And the difficult part of it was deciding who the people were, and who were the rats.
But Malicia Grim said it was a story about stories.
Doesn't seem to tell you much, does it? Of course, after you read it, you realize just how much it says. I'm sorry. I'm really not trying to be so obtuse here. I'm just having a hard time putting this all into words.
Okay. Let's try this again.
The Amazing Maurice is a cat. A talking cat, who is sort of the unofficial leader of an odd group of con artists. The rest of this band consists of a boy named Keith and a bunch of educated rodents. Only I'm not sure "educated" is precisely the correct word. Thinking rodents. And it's not that all cats and rodents can think and talk. No, this is not the norm. (How they came to be this way, I'll leave for you to discover when you read this book. Because you should read this book.) Anyway, this little group has perfected a scam. They head into an unsuspecting town. The rats wreak havoc. And do so in ways that no ordinary rats would even dream of doing. Seriously, how would you react if a rat went tap-dancing across your table before "widdling" in your cream? Okay, so not all the rats are fabulous dancers, but Sardines is quite proud of his talent. Anyway, so the rats put the town in an uproar, and in comes Keith, a piper, and offers to lead the rats away. For a price, of course.
Now this unlikely gang makes quite a fine living at this for a while. Until they come to the town of Bad Blintz. And it is here that the story really takes place. And this is where it turns dark. I don't want to give away any more of the actual story, but I've got all these really cool things floating around in my head that I really wish I could talk about. *sigh* So, I'll just add a couple of disconnected thoughts here, and then urge you once again to go read this yourself.
*I love the names of the rats, and the story of how they got their names. I won't tell you the story. Think you can guess if I tell you some of my favorite names? Hamnpork, Bestbefore, Nourishing, Additives, Inbrine. And my very favorite of all...Dangerous Beans (though I'm dying for someone to explain the "circumstances" of that one).
*This is the PERFECT book for Once Upon a Time. It fills nearly all the categories at once. :) Fantasy--check. Fairy tale--yep, definitely a cool retelling of the Pied Piper. Folklore--again yep, rat kings. *shudder* And you know, someone more learned on such matters might be able to find a way to stick this under myth, too.
*It's loaded with humor, sometimes subtle, always smart.
*And finally, let me leave you with this question:
What is it that defines "civilized"?
Oops, sorry, I'm not really going to leave it at that. But don't worry...I've got a good reason for continuing. See, I have a copy of this wonderful little treasure to give away. NO, not mine--this is a keeper! But a brand new copy, because I accidentally bought two. Want it? Just say so...and I'll do the random draw thingie sometime Monday.
Annie at Words by Annie
Jennifer at Jennifer's Book Blog
Lara at Lara's YA Reading Log
Nate at The Chronicles of Nate-ia
Rebecca at Just One More Page
Jenclair at A Garden Carried in the Pocket
Oh, and it won the Carnegie Award...so I'm guessing the judges loved it, too. :)
I'm sure there must be other reviews out there, so if you've got one, please feel free to leave a link in the comments, and I'll add it here. Thanks.