This is in no way a book review. This is in fact a book gush. I make no apologies for it, as I will be gushing about Terry Pratchett, and I frankly feel he deserves to be gushed about. If you disagree, I would politely suggest you stop reading this article. Also, I am very very very sorry for you. Now, on to the main Event!
Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett
Published October 2009 (There appear to be several publishers, depending on location)
This book is only a few months old, and I have just recently had the opportunity to read it. I finished it in a day. Of course, this is not unusual for a Terry Pratchett book, as I usually sit down and don’t get up until I finish them about eight hours later. I was initially a bit trepidatious about this newest installment of DiscWorld. From the jacket you get the impression that it is a rewrite of Romeo and Juliet (the girl’s name is even Juliet!) set in (British, of course!) Football fandom. I must admit, I care for neither of these two themes particularly, and hence my trepidation.
However, as I should have expected from Pratchett, Unseen Academicals is only remotely about either Football or Starcrossed lovers. In fact, the Romeo-and-Juliet romance isn’t even the primary romance, though one might be led into believing it is so, at the beginning. Nor is Football really the main theme either, more the vehicle which Pratchett uses to present his theme. Now, I must admit, as I’ve only read the book once (so far) and my grasp on the “deep” theme is not great, yet. However, the very edges of it which I have grasped deal with the power of Fandom, the power of the ‘Team’, and breaking out of the mold.
While this installment of Discworld could be loosely put into either the Rincewind or the Watch story-lines, it is more properly an Ankh-Morpork novel. Rincewind is indeed present (running from the opposing team, in fact!), and Sam Vimes and his Watch make a brief, grumpy appearance at the end. However, the most interesting characters belong strictly to the City. Several new ones are introduced, who I hope continue into other volumes. Two of these are the Mysterious Mister Nutt (not plural, please) and Glenda Sugarbean. Mister Nutt is an absolutely fascinating Character, and I do not wish to spoil any discoveries for the Reader. Suffice it to say, he is created to deal with the theme of “breaking the mold”, and he does! In fact, I would venture to say, that in his diffident way, he not only breaks the mold, but stamps the pieces to dust and shoves them through the cracks in the floorboards. Glenda Sugarbean isn’t really mysterious, she’s just another of those Pratchett women who usually populate the Witches storylines. It is interesting to see her here in Ankh-Morpork, the solid, sensible, practical (but with a hidden Romantic side), motherly, dare I say, witchy woman. She’s the sort of woman I both hope and fear I may become some day. And in a bit of a departure for Pratchett, she actually has her own Romance as well, which I argue is actually the central Romance for the story. And moreover, she makes the same logical observation and its concomitant objection I’ve always had to the original Romeo and Juliet (represented briefly as the play Starcrossed)!
There are of course, several other interesting new characters, such as the aforesaid Juliet’s love-interest, Trev Likely, a new psychopath, and a few interesting new Wizards at the university. There are of course many of the old familiar favorites as well, though with new twists. We see an interesting new side of Vetinari (drunk if you can imagine!) and are treated to a rare example of Ridcully being sensible (mostly).
I will stop here, as there is not much more I can say about the story or characters without spoiling the delightful surprises contained therein, which I do not wish to do as stated above. However, I will say that while this is not in my top favorite Pratchett books, neither is it near the bottom. Nor is this status any fault of the book, it is simply pushed lower by the existence of other amazing Discworld books (the Witches stories). I had been afraid that perhaps Mr. Pratchett’s writing would begin to deteriorate as his Alzheimer’s progresses. I am thoroughly pleased and relieved that this is not yet the case. Moreover, as an avid Reader, I sincerely thank Mr. Pratchett for continuing in the face of what must be incredible obstacles. I salute you, sir. You are truly one of my writing Heroes.
Thought for the Day: “A good bookshop is just a genteel Black Hole that knows how to read.” Terry Pratchett
Currently Reading: “Women in Ancient Egypt” by Gay Robins