Review: The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, by Terry Pratchett

Russ Allbery eagle at
Sun Apr 30 21:05:21 PDT 2023

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents
by Terry Pratchett

Series:    Discworld #28
Publisher: HarperCollins
Copyright: 2001
Printing:  2008
ISBN:      0-06-001235-8
Format:    Mass market
Pages:     351

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents is the 28th Discworld
novel and the first marketed for younger readers. Although it has
enough references to establish it as taking place on Discworld, it has
no obvious connections with the other books and doesn't rely on any
knowledge of the series so far. This would not be a bad place to start
with Terry Pratchett and see if his writing style and sense of humor is
for you.

Despite being marketed as young adult, and despite Pratchett's comments
in an afterward in the edition I own that writing YA novels is much
harder, I didn't think this was that different than a typical Discworld
novel. The two main human characters read as about twelve and there
were some minor changes in tone, but I'm not sure I would have
immediately labeled it as YA if I hadn't already known it was supposed
to be. There are considerably fewer obvious pop culture references than
average, though; if that's related, I think I'll prefer Pratchett's YA
novels, since I think his writing is stronger when he's not playing
reference bingo.

Maurice (note to US readers: Maurice is pronounced "Morris" in the UK)
is a talking cat and the mastermind of a wandering con job. He, a
stupid-looking kid with a flute (Maurice's description), and a tribe of
talking rats travel the small towns of Discworld. The rats go in first,
making a show of breaking into the food, swimming in the cream, and
widdling on things that humans don't want widdled on. Once the
townspeople are convinced they have a plague of rats, the kid with the
flute enters the town and offers to pipe the rats away for a very
reasonable fee. He plays his flute, the rats swarm out of town, and
they take their money and move on to the next town. It's a successful
life that suits Maurice and is growing hoard of gold very well. If only
the rats would stop asking pointed questions about the ethics of this

The town of Bad Blintz is the next on their itinerary, and if the rats
have their way, will be the last. Their hope is they've gathered enough
money by now to find an island, away from humans, where they can live
their own lives. But, as is always the case for one last job in
fiction, there's something uncannily wrong about Bad Blintz. There are
traps everywhere, more brutal and dangerous ones than they've found in
any other town, and yet there is no sign of native, unintelligent rats.

Meanwhile, Maurice and the boy find a town that looks wealthy but has
food shortages, a bounty on rats that is absurdly high, and a pair of
sinister-looking rat-catchers who are bringing in collections of rat
tails that look suspiciously like bootlaces. The mayor's daughter
discovers Maurice can talk and immediately decides she has to take them
in hand. Malicia is very certain of her own opinions, not accustomed to
taking no for an answer, and is certain that the world follows the
logic of stories, even if she has to help it along.

This is truly great stuff. I think this might be my favorite Discworld
novel to date, although I do have some criticisms that I'll get to in a

The best part are the rats, and particularly the blind philosopher rat
Dangerous Beans and his assistant Peaches. In the middle of daring
infiltration of the trapped sewers in scenes reminiscent of Mission:
Impossible, the rats are also having philosophical arguments. They've
become something different than the unaltered rats that they call the
keekees, but what those differences mean is harder to understand. The
older rats are not happy about too many changes and think the rats
should keep acting like rats. The younger ones are discovering that
they're afraid of shadows because now they understand what the shadows
hint at. Dangerous Beans is trying to work out a writing system so that
they can keep important thoughts. One of their few guides is a
children's book of talking animals, although they quickly discover that
the portrayed clothing is annoyingly impractical.

But as good as the rats are, Maurice is nearly as much fun in an
entirely different way. He is unapologetically out for himself,
streetwise and canny in a way that feels apt for a cat, gets bored and
mentally wanders off in the middle of conversations, and pretends to
agree with people when that's how he can get what he wants. But he also
has a weird sense of loyalty and ethics that only shows up when
something is truly important. It's a variation on the con man with a
heart of gold, but it's a very well-done variation that weaves in a
cat's impatience with and inattention to anything that doesn't directly
concern them. I was laughing throughout the book.

Malicia is an absolute delight, the sort of character who takes over
scenes through sheer force of will, and the dumb-looking kid (whose
name turns out to be Keith) is a perfect counterbalance: a laid-back,
quiet boy who just wants to play his music and is almost entirely
unflappable. It's such a great cast.

The best part of the plot is the end. I won't spoil it, so I'll only
say that Pratchett has the characters do the work on the aftermath that
a lot of books skip over. He doesn't have any magical solutions for the
world's problems, but he's so very good at restoring one's faith that
maybe sometimes those solutions can be constructed.

My one complaint with this book is that Pratchett introduces a second
villain, and while there are good in-story justifications for it and
it's entangled with the primary plot, he added elements of (mild)
supernatural horror and evil that I thought were extraneous and
unnecessary. He already had enough of a conflict set up without adding
that additional element, and I think it undermined the moral complexity
of the story. I would have much rather he kept the social dynamics of
the town at the core of the story and used that to trigger the moments
of sacrifice and philosophy that made the climax work.

The Discworld books by this point have gotten very good, but each book
seems to have one element like that where it felt like Pratchett took
the easy way out of a plot corner or added some story element that
didn't really work. I feel like the series is on the verge of having a
truly great book that rises above the entire series to date, but never
quite gets there.

That caveat aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this and had trouble putting it
down. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh was one of my favorite books as
a kid, and this reminded me of it in some good ways (enough so that I
think some of the references were intentional). Great stuff. If you
were to read only one Discworld book and didn't want to be confused by
all the entangled plot threads and established characters, I would
seriously consider making it this one. Recommended.

Followed by Night Watch in publication order. There doesn't appear to
be a direct plot sequel, more's the pity.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2023-04-30


Russ Allbery (eagle at             <>

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