If I had voice-recognition software my hands would currently be up, high above my head. Of course, I don't. But nevertheless, metaphorically speaking my hands are up. You caught me. I am an unashamed, long-term Pratchett fan. Not the convention type, to be sure. But fan still, and for as long as I can remember.
So, to finally hold a children's book (award-winning children's book, I should say) by Pratchett, set in the margins of the Discworld, is to snap me back into my childhood with the joyous g-force of a sharp and plunging twist on a rollercoaster.
The Amazing Maurice is not a long book, and as ever it takes but the beat on an eyelid to read it through. But this is not about skimming quickly to the end, it is about the thrall of a Pratchett book, the way you sink into it from the very first page, never really looking up until you've finished the last. So: you will read it quickly, maybe in just a day, but you will find at the end of that day, that you have not dressed, eaten, nor remembered to go to work.
The plot here is pared down from those evident in the adult Discworld. It is, indeed, and as advertised on the cover, a Discworld fable. A version of the Pied Piper fable, retold with style. What is does brilliantly, though, and in its own right, is cosset the reader in the murk of the rat tunnels in which so much time is spent. You are underground, swaddled in darkness throughout, and though much of it is funny, there is a real and urgent sense of fear in the book. There is malice and fright and wit and death and laughter, all underpinned by the particular brand of common-sense, ethical and humane logic that makes Pratchett so much more than just a fantasy author.
The characters are, perhaps, a little too typical of the Discworld. Animals made intelligent by magic who go on to demonstrate how unintelligent humans can be. It is a trick we have seen before. The Amazing Maurice, like Gaspode the Wonder Dog, is a street-wise, self-regarding voice at the heels of the humans. But then, Maurice seems a little less sure of himself than Gaspode, a little more fearful behind the bravado. And this difference, though possibly too subtle for the occasional Pratchett reader, is beautifully played out when Maurice battles with his own mind and that of Spider. It is a superbly written sequence, balanced wonderfully against the joyous new character of Sardines. Now he really is a rat to remember.
The Amazing Maurice, I think, would have been my favourite book if I had read it when I was a child. As an adult it still registers as a wonderful, pacy, atmospheric tale that, within the limits of the children's fable, rates as highly as anything Pratchett has ever done.