Oliver Twist is one of the most well-known stories ever told, about a young orphan who has to survive the mean streets of London before ultimately being rescued by a kindly benefactor.
But it is his friend, the Artful Dodger, who has the far more intriguing tale, filled with more adventure and excitement than anything boring Oliver could possibly get up to. Throw in some vampires and a plot to overthrow the British monarchy, and what you have is the thrilling account that Charles Dickens was too scared to share with the world.
|Artful: A Novel
Publication: July 2014
Genre: YA, Retelling, Paranormal
Received via Kindle First
Locate: amazon | b&n | worldcat
Artful A Novel by Peter David
Before I get into the crux of my review, I would like to say that it was tough coming up with an adequate star rating for the book. I think a target audience of young (ages 10-17) males would give it 4, or possibly even 5 stars. Young female readers might rate it at 3 or 4, while others reading more critically may peak at 3 stars. As such, I felt a strong 3 stars was a good compromise. Now, onto the review!
I am a big fan of Alternative History/Alternate Universe (AU for the uninformed) stories and retellings. The idea of magic and the preternatural having always coexisted beside the mundane and scientifically proven is one I hold dear to my heart. Make it a period piece, and you’ve definitely got me hooked! This particular genre niche is severely lacking in good material. The last really good book that exemplifies the genre would have to be Susanna Clarke’s “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell,” which is one of my favourites, despite its length and slow build. So, when I say I was excited to find and read Artful: A Novel, you’ll have to understand that I was excited not because it was an alternate, or companion, telling to Oliver Twist, but because it was a book that may actually fill the genre void.
Jack Dawkins, better known as The Artful Dodger, stars as the titular hero of the novel. He manages to escape his expulsion to Australia only to land himself in a royal conspiracy involving vampires and princesses. He meets a mysterious young woman, whom he nicknames Drina, and as we all know, once you name something, you’re attached. So it was in this case where Artful defends newly found Drina against a man believing her to be a prostitute, then against one of the prostitutes with whom he is on friendly terms. After all this rescuing, he bares his soul to the guarded young woman over a small home cooked meal. When she decides she would like Artful to take her on a tour of London, they discover a young man has been asking after Artful. They run off in search of him and are led on a journey through London streets, psychiatric asylums, and courts.
The premise is typical and the plot predictable. Characters fulfill their archetypal roles, never straying into murky waters. It’s a very safe read, which is why I would recommend it to young males, especially those who are a bit wary of reading. As enjoyable as it was, when reading it as a quick, simple, “popcorn” read, I cannot fully endorse it as a good read for young girls. The females we see in the novel are all in need of rescuing. They are also clearly separated into two categories – the “whores” which are undesirable, and the “virgins” which are the ones worthy of love and attention. That this is a book better geared for young males, rather than females, is made abundantly clear on the second page when the narrator comments on Oliver Twist’s tendency to cry/show emotion, “Whatever circumstance confronted him, his default reaction was to burst into tears, which makes him seem to us — not with the intention of disparaging the fairer sex, but still — a bit womanish.”
In all, it’s a fast and simple read that would greatly appeal to young male readers, but beware of recommending this book to girls.
Quotes & Excerpts
of a London nearly two centuries gone, back when it was a pox-infested, grimy, depressing, fog-bound, class-favoring, sprawling, noxious, odorous, and overall distasteful place in which to live and breathe and sicken and die — as opposed to modern times, wherein the pox has been largely attended to; so that’s progress of a sort.
I needn’t remind you that this was back in the day when the mere act of not being a Christian was to make one suspect, if not an outright potential criminal. These, of course, are far more enlightened times, when it is only acceptable to believe that not being a Christian is likely to mean one is a criminal only if one is a Muslim (or at least so we’ve been assured by people who claim to know such things) […]
[…] would be the ruin of a woman already ruined[…]
Only in death do worthless people have worth.
Mostly what he did, the service that he offered them, consisted of nothing other than treating them with simple respect. You might think that this would be their birthright as living beings, but ponder: With how much respect do people treat slabs of beef? Beef is pounded, sates the appetite, and is extended no particular consideration beyond that. The sad truth is that oftentimes the ladies are seen as similar objects in that they are pounded in a variety of ways for the purpose of satisfying certain appetites, albeit unwholesome ones, and the remains are left behind for someone else to worry about.
“The measure of a gen’leman is how he treats ladies. They can call themselves what they wants, but if what they says don’t match up with how they behaves, well, what they do says far more of who they are than what they says they are does, if you gets my drift.”
Thus did Fagin, over a period of many months, find himself slipping deeper and deeper into despair and frustration, for he could not leave behind the life he had once had, but could not conceive of a new life that he could embrace.
And that was when he came to the startling realization that he did not care about anything.
This sudden revelation would have come across to another almost as a burst of light behind the eyes, so forceful was it. Because he was what he was, though, it was instead an explosion of blackness, albeit in the same locale.
“I miss the sun,” he said, beset with melancholy, “and tire of the shadow. There are so many who are given greatness even though they are not entitled to it. And me, what has dwelt at the bottom of society’s dregs for so long that I can’t rightly guess what the top would even look like… what’s the bloody point of it all […]”
“When one is faced with endless nights, why, then it’s just a matter of trying to get through every one of ‘em. But if one sees the cutoff in the road, one thinks beyond one’s own immediate needs. One seeks immortality in name, as body cannot provide it. But immortality in mind distracts from what the name can achieve.”
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