Number of pages: 256
This book is the first Discworld novel that Terry Pratchett wrote for a young adult audience, and it is also a completely stand-alone adventure, about a band of rats led by the eponymous Maurice, who can talk and also go from town to town conning humans.
My first thought was that the story was going to be based on Fagin and his band of pickpockets in "Oliver Twist", but this story makes more conspicuous references to the Pied Piper of Hamelin, as we learn that the group has a young human companion, Keith, who leads them out of town playing his pipes, pretending that he is ridding them of a plague of rats.
However, this book has the characters ending up in trouble at the hands of rat catchers and the threat of another piper who seems likely to want to do something nasty to the rats. Things start taking a turn for the bizarre when...
[Spoiler (click to open)]
It becomes apparent that the rat catchers are trying to create a "rat king", although I didn't quite understand how they were doing this, which would eventually result in particularly unpleasant plague of vermin. As I read it, the concept just sounded like The Human Centipede.
As I read this book, I noticed obvious changes to the writing style, to make the book appropriate for a younger audience, so there was none of the mild swearing found in the adult books; instead, there were lots of references to rats "widdling".
I did notice that this book felt unusually dark at times both for a young adult book and for a discworld novel, and the tone often felt more serious, and more similar to the two adult titles that followed this one, "Night Watch" and "Monstrous Regiment".
I found the character of Maurice to be an enjoyable enough character to read about, certainly one who merited appearing in further titles, though I got the impression that he was possibly meant as some sort of anti-hero character, mostly because he led a band of rats, but also liked to EAT rats (like cats do). There was also some satire in this book, which only started to develop properly towards the end, with references to how rats should be given equal rights to humans, evidently an allegory to the civil rights movement.
Also, the fact that this was a stand-alone book meant that it didn't feel that much like Discworld, because there were no familiar characters, until near the end when Death made an appearance, accompanied the the Death of Rats. Death's scene is probably the best moment in the book, and revolves entirely over the concept of cats having nine lives. Apart from that, the only Discworld elements were brief references to wizards and guilds.
The end of the book seems to be leaving the way clear for a possible sequel, but as far as I'm aware, none was ever written, as the other five young adult Discworld novels all seem to be about the character Tiffany Aching; I'm guessing Pratchett must have liked the character so much that he decided to focus on her.
Overall, I didn't enjoy this as much as some of the older Discworld titles, but it was definitely more readable than some of the later books in the series.
Next book: The House of Mirth (Edith Wharton)