On the Discworld, even wizards produce leftovers. Their discarded garbage, however, is laced with traces of magic. Out on the tip, the rats forage in the scraps - apple cores, candle stubs [good carbohydrate source], dogends. Like any trace mineral, the magic builds up until the rats have changed, gaining new talents. Among those talents are speaking and reading. Speaking allows them to communicate better while the reading gives them words to use as names. They're an organized group now, and they have an ambition. They want to find a safe place for retirement. They have a mentor, Maurice, a cat who shares their talents, but has an extra one of his own - he's a con cat. And he has a story hidden away.
A street smart feline, Maurice has learned the value of money. He knows how humans use it, and he wants the independence it offers. To gain it, he's organized the rats and adopted Keith, a rather simple human, into his group. Together, they work the towns to create a "plague of rats" then provide a piper, Keith, to lure them away - for cash. Despite disputes over percentages, the team has scored many successful ventures. But Keith, and the rats, are having misgivings over the ethics of the con. They want to quit, and Bad Blintz will be the last place they work the con.
Every venture has its risks. Bad Blintz is clearly not a rich place. The villagers queue up for bread and sausages, which are in short supply. There are rat catchers who carry strings of tails, but the team can't find a live rat anywhere in the maze of cellars and tunnels beneath the town. In resolving this conundrum, team encounters a powerful new force - one that challenges all the skills given them by the wizards' residue magic. Their very survival rests on how they deal with the mystery. Its resolution is consummately Pratchett.
Terry Pratchett's books increasingly delve into philosophical questions, even moral ones. It would be nice to know if he actually intended this book for "children." You'll note above that the publishers call for "Reader Level Ages 9 - 12," but the editorial reviews say "12 and up." The disparity is typical Pratchett. Why the lack of consensus? One guess is that Pratchett thinks the adult mind set is too rigid to discern the point he's making. This book isn't a fantasy about "talking animals," it's a spur to stimulate thinking about the relationship of humanity to the rest of the animal kingdom. We're part of that kingdom, but we deal with our relations in ignorance. Children, and a few adults, are best suited to begin revising that approach. With human society devastating the habitats of so many creatures, a new way of thinking about them is required. Pratchett's conclusion shows that the process won't be simple and we have to start thinking now about how to do it. Who better to start with than children? They still have the capacity to learn.
It's almost superfluous to discuss Pratchett's writing. He's a master of language and a skilled manipulater of ideas. If you are new to his work, this is a fine place to start. If you're an established fan, there's nothing here to disappoint you. Add this book to your library and buy another for someone. Anyone. They'll surely be grateful. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]