Thursday, August 9, 2012

Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett - review

Unseen Academicals
Terry Pratchett
Discworld novel
2009 h/c

******  6 out of 6 star

Cover - I love this cover - it's just a hint of what's going on.  Only I would have expected a rugby type of ball....or at least the shape.  However, I realize this game is symbol of ALL games everywhere, and therefore, it's totally possible that a basketball like ball is used in a combination football/rugby/soccer type game....hell, it could even be a head being kicked around by an ancient people in a precursor to the game of ..... well,  soccer/  :)

For some odd reason, totally not my usual way of doing things, I bought this book the moment it came out (okay, that's normal with a favorite) and then put off reading it for quite a while....which can be normal for me with a lot of books, but NEVER with a Terry Pratchett book.  In fact, I ended up reading the next book, Snuff, before I finally dug Unseen Academicals back out of the TBR pile.  Of course, once I began reading I was soon pulled into the story....

Reading a Terry Pratchett novel is quite an experience.  The man is clever, brilliant AND on top of that, can write a charming, interesting, humorous novel full of twists, turns, surprises, tidbits and social satire.  He does not shy away from difficult or uncomfortable subjects and yet can write with humor, so while you're laughing, you're still thinking about the injustices of the world.   Somehow, and rightly so, you're left know just how idiotic these injustices are yet even while the novel seethes with trouble makers, the poor, the desparate - by the end of the book you are enjoying the fact that while still imperfect - the characters have had small victories, huge victories, or temporary victories, and even if they don't necessarily get a fairytale happy ending - they get the right ending.

In this case, we're not only reading about sports and how it affects people, but all the other behavours and issues that a popular well attended sporting event can bring up - bigotry, politics, rights of the people, rioting, cheating, loyalties, competition, know, all the craziness that can accompany sports and sporting events and even within sporting families. 

There's this game that's been going on since forever, it gets bigger and bigger, truly mythical proportions, even the spectators seem to be part of the game (like in American football, when they call the crowd the 12th man).  The game seems to be a cross between Rugby, Soccer and Football, and in this early, discworld version the game seems to move from place to place; not because of the day, but because of where the players are throwing the ball.  The game and "12th man" becoming so epic has drawn the attention of Lord Vetinari.  When he becomes interested in something - watch out.

There are some familiar faces in Unseen Academicals - The Unseen University, the wizards within; Ponder, Stibbons, Ridcully, The Librarian, etc.  However, Pratchett introduces new characters to readers: the head of the night kitchen, Glenda, who is a no nonsense type of woman, one everyone depends on and who seems to be middle ages, though she's much younger; Juliet, the beautiful worshipped maid, who is the same age as Glenda, yet seems years younger; Trev, who works for the Unseen University - a young handsome roguish man, big sports enthusiast, and unfortunately a supporter of the wrong team.  Unfortunate, because he's in love with Juliet and her family/neighborhood are for the other team.  There's a bit of a Romeo/Juliet thing going here - just the beginnings....  There is also this whiz of a candle maker - Mr.  Nutt.  In fact, he seems to be an expert on just about everything, and yet there is something slightly sinister and mysterious about him  People seem nervous around him...

There's such a wondrous mix of stories here.  I see a sort of West Side/East Side, Romeo and Juliet, Necessary Roughness, all kinds of stories going on here - and it's all weaved into one master story by this brilliant writer, Terry Pratchett.  As usual, Pratchett uses humor, satire, cleverness, multiple storylines and wonderful dialogue all together to bring his take on things - in this example, sports and love.  If you haven't yet tried a Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett, this is a good one - though he has over 30 novels set in this Discworld, they all stand alone in their own right.  And if you have read them, just haven't yet picked up this one, go get it, you won't be disappointed.

Sir Terry Pratchett has already released one new book, The Long Earth this year, and is releasing another book in September, 2012.  The Long Earth is a mix of Science Fiction and Fantasy - looks very interesting.   Out right now.   

Dodger, coming out in September, is Young Adult, and mixes in some history with fantasy elements - Sweeney Todd, Charles Dickens, promises to be an interesting novel.


  1. I haven't read Pratchett yet (ashamed face), but everyone seems to adore him. What book should a newbie start with?

  2. He has over 30 books - and most of them can be standalones. Some of them can be found in the young adult section, if you're in a bookstore.

    Young Adult
    The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents
    the Wee Free Men (Tiffany Aching #1)
    Hat Full of Skye (Tiffany Aching #2)
    Wintersmith (Tiffany Aching #3)
    I shall Wear Midnight (Tiffany Aching #4, final)
    Nation - is not a Discworld book, but IS a very good book about a young girl castaway, and a young islander who has lost his entire village in a tsunami type of event. They end up on the same island and depend on each other to survive- it's a very good book about friendship, survival, race relations and loyalty.

    Regarding the young adult - though most of his books are standalones - four of them follow a young girl, Tiffany Aching, who becomes a witch. So those, I would read in order. I would suggest those first, BUT there is one character - a minor character in the Tiffany books who is a major character in other books - Granny Weatherwax. If you wanted to stick to mainly adult, then a good one to introduce you to the witches of the Discworld is The Wyrd Sisters - there is Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg (who has many, many childrend and daughter in laws - most witches being single and old crones, she's not your normal witch) and the youngest - Magrat.

    I could talk your ear off about these books. If you're more into police there are the books that concern the Watch (police) - one of those is Guards!, Guards! - a very good one. There are also quite a few books about sorcerers -one of them concerns a female who ends up being trained as a sorcerer even though that is unheard of - Equal Rites.

    Speaking of sorcerers, one of the first novels of Discword concerns Rincewind - a specially inept wizard and his luggage. His luggage seems to be sentient, has about a hundred feet, and sometimes eats annoying people. he/it seems to like Rincewind, so he tends to protect him.

    There is one about Pyramids, one called Moving Pictures, they're all great. But for beginning I would say the Tiffany Aching books starting with Wee Free Men - just look for the regular paperback, I've found that the publishers keep publishing them in different forms. I laughed my ass off with The Wee Free Men, it was so funny. And I would strongly suggest The Wyrd Sisters, which references MacBeth, and a few other things you might recognise....

    OH - one of my FAVORITE characters is DEATH, there is one book where he's looking for the meaning of life. Goes on 'vacation' and works on a farm. That is in Reaper Man - fun book. There are also a few books featuring Susan, who is DEATH's granddaughter (he adopted a baby, who then married his apprentance, and then they had a baby).

    There are so many good books of his to choose from, but again - to begin with, I would choose either the Wyrd Sisters, or Wee Free Men. Once you read Wee Free Men, you're going to want to read the other three of the Tiffany books, and the last one was bittersweet - because you know that particular character's story was ending, but it was in a good way - as she's growing up. I'm not sure, but I'm guessing he chose to write a final Tiffany novel because he's been diagnosed with Alzheimers and might have been bringing that chapter to an end. He's very talented man and within the books you'll find many familiar people and events, as a kind nod to, or satirazation of. I can't say that I've ever been disappointed or bored with any of his novels, that's saying something with such a long running series. He keeps it fresh by varying the characters and settings, revisiting many of them in different situations as they and their world grows/changes.

    Hope I didn't just confuse you more. :)