The cat Maurice and a rat pack have been infected by magic from the rubbish heap next to the Wizards university, and now they are intelligent and can talk. The bossy cat cooks up a scam to make money, similar to the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. He enlists the rats and a dumb boy to play the pipes, and off they go to earn money through creating and solving rat infestations.
After 27 regular Discworld novels about witches, guards and grim reapers, Pratchett felt like walking down a different path and wrote The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents. It’s marketed as his first Young Adult book, which is slightly ridiculous because most Pratchett fans start reading his “normal” Discworld novels in their teenage years. The greatest difference between this book and the previous ones is that The Amazing Maurice… features talking animals. Pratchett’s usual wit and attractive writing style is still there, although it is not that focused on wordplay.
So, I would definitely recommend this one, even if your first inclination is to skip the YA-marketed books. If you like Pratchett, this book is no less funny and intelligent. It is slightly shorter, though, and in contrast to his usual stories, it has numbered chapters. While most Discworld novels feature multiple storylines all happening at once and converging here and there, this one is simpler in setup. It’s a straightforward story broken up in episodes.
The characters and their strange compact make it worth it. Maurice the cat is flippant and sarcastic and in typical cat fashion only thinks about himself. The rats are more like a regiment. When they learned how to read, they gave themselves names that they thought sounded good, like Dangerous Beans. And the boy Keith is dismissed by everyone because he looks stupid, but secretly he is quite smart.
Pratchett being Pratchett, he can’t help lifting the story up from a straightforward tale to deeper, funnier explorations of The Things We Know. The smart rats, for example, are dealing with self-consciousness for the first time and want to build up a rat society. They also get neuroses, confused emotions and a Holy Book, in the form of a children’s novel named Mr Bunnsy Has An Adventure, which is like a Pratchett satire of children’s books for the really young. Every chapter starts with a holy citation from Mr Bunnsy to illustrate the adventures of the rats. There are many more witty ideas lying in wait. It is no surprise that the book won a prestigious children’s books award.
Overall, the Amazing Maurice is a decent story but also a very short story. It has a Brothers Grimm vibe to it that is entirely deliberate, meaning that it feels like a fairy tale about animals while also being a parody of it, and with still a rather straightforward episodic story. Compared to the other Discworld novels, it simply offers less. Jokes too are not that numerous. On the positive side, it is easier to read The Amazing Maurice as a standalone novel.