19 January, 2010

Book 43 - "One day a prince would come, even if Glenda had to drag him on a chain."

Title: Unseen Academicals (2009)
Author: Terry Pratchett

Why this book?
Because it's the latest in the Discworld series, of which I have read every single book. All 37 of them! I really like Terry Pratchett, OK.

So what's it all about?
Most of the Discworld books satirise or parody "round world" - real world - culture and history. Unseen Academicals is no different, taking on the grand English tradition of "foot-the-ball" - soccer, that is, not American football - and includes references to the historical banning of football, modern footballers with their model girlfriends, glamorous international players, and the bitter club rivals and fights between fans. As well as football, Pratchett plays with other topics which may be familiar to round-world readers - rivalries between universities, the stealing of intellectual property, and a Tolkeinesque orc who may be the last of his kind, and is sure he isn't a blood-thirsty as the legends say - well, mostly sure.

So: Unseen University, the home of the greatest wizards in Ankh-Morpork and therefore (as far as they're concerned) the world, have just discovered something rather horrifying: that unless they put together a football team, their funding is going to dry up. Therefore, they are charged not just with putting together a team, but with turning football into a game that isn't played in underground games by fifty-aside teams.

Below stairs at the University, large and practical Glenda - maker of fine pies - has always known where her place is (to whit: in the kitchen, making pies.) But when her friend, the beautiful and not-too-bright Jools drags her along to a fashion show and is suddenly being hounded by the press, Glenda starts to realise that times are changing, and that if Jools can become a model for a dwarfish fashion house, then maybe Glenda can also go on to bigger and brighter things?

Nobody knows where Mr Nutt came from, or what he is - not even Mr Nutt. But he's a very quick learner and an efficient worker, and when Trev drags him along to a football game he takes to it very quickly, and soon finds himself coaching the University team. Still, Mr Nutt is sure he must be carrying some dark secret; will letting it out hurt himself, and his new friends? Trev already has his own problems - he's fallen in love with Jools, even though they supports rival football teams. And even though Trev promised his Mum he'd never play football, not after the way his Dad died, he may be the only player capable of winning the game for the University without anyone else getting killed...

The Good and the Bad
It's kind of hard for me to be objective about anything Pratchett's written, mostly I'm a huge Pratchett fangirl, but also because I'm so familiar with his style, ideas, and characters that I find it difficult to think critically about them. I will say, though, that while I've been disappointed with a few of his more recent books (notably Thud and Making Money, both of which were readable but somewhat weaker than his usual fare) he's finally back on form. The ending was still a little weak, but it was in no way an anti-climax, nor did it ruin the rest of the book for me. I enjoyed both the new characters he introduced and the revisiting of the wizards - some of his oldest and most popular characters. His word-play and lengthy footnotes, for which he is renowned, were brilliant and hilarious - and the book is, overall, thoroughly enjoyable.

So should I read it or what?
Obviously I'm going to say "yes", but I would say that maybe this isn't the best book to start with if you're completely new to Pratchett. If you are new, then I'd suggest starting either with The Witches Abroad, which plays with fairytales and ideas of good and evil, or with Men at Arms which is a good introduction to the city of Ankh-Morpork where many of the Discworld books take place (and it also has most of my favourite characters in it!)

Irrelevant link of the day: Of all the literal music videos youtube has produced, this one for Take on me is still the greatest.

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