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Tuesday, 17 May 2011

On the ball: A review of Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

I must admit, my heart sank a little when I first saw the cover of Unseen Academicals by Sir Terry Pratchett. The Diskworld series of books is without doubt my favourite fantasy series ever. But this book, the 37th novel in the series, was about football, and I have little interest in football. Of course the book wasn’t really about ‘football’ any more than ‘Pyramids’ was about Pyramids, or ‘Small Gods’ was about umm, well… Small Gods!

The back-story in ‘Unseen Academicals’ revolves around the possible withdrawal of a rather large endowment to Unseen University, a cut in funds that would mean the Wizards could only afford three meals a day. In order to avert this clearly unacceptable stare of play the wizards have to form a football team, and complete a game in order to fulfil the terms of the bequest, but the local game is rather violent for the Wizards, to say the least.

After my initial misgivings I have to say that this turned out to be a worthy addition to the Diskworld family. In Unseen Academicals Sir Pratchett continued his recent trend of introducing new, and interesting, main characters. The newly introduced characters of Mr. Nutt, a candle dribbler to trade, and his co-worker Trev Likely, a lad with a foot for kicking a can, and the son of a famous, but deceased, footballer. Both of whom manage to be enigmatic and funny in equal measures. The other two new main characters are the unflappable Glenda, who runs the University Night Kitchens and bakes the best pies on the disc. And last but by no-means least the beautiful Juliet, who has only a passing familiarity with reality, and dreams about fashion. Together with the budding football team they all conspire to run with the ball as Sir Pratchett takes us on a game of two halves at his trademark whistle-stop pace...

The wording tended a bit more towards the profane in this book than in the previous volumes, and it was noticeable to me. Mainly because I wasn’t expecting this from a Diskworld novel; although this is a personal opinion and it doesn’t diminish the pace or quality of the overall writing. I do see where the language fits with the characters in this story, and I wouldn’t say it is prohibitive for anyone reading it, just a bit unexpected.

Although this book didn’t initially sound as though it was going to have the instant appeal of some of the other titles; it wasn’t based around any of the DiskWorld stalwarts like Rincwind or Death, and the subject matter of a football-team wasn’t one I would usually be interested in; it did surprise me, in a good way.
After some initial misgivings the book turned out to be an unexpected favourite; full of twists, turns and giggles. Most of the main characters may be new, but they also bring a fresh breath of life to this story. That isn’t to say the old crowd-pleasers like the Lord Vetinari (the Patrician), the Librarian, Rincwind and other assembled Wizards don’t have their part to play. But I do have to say that it is the new players that make this book, in my opinion.

After, what were in my opinion, some rather shaky stories more  recently I am happy to say that this one appeared to be firmly back on form.

Overall a premier-league effort… sorry!

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