Sam Quixote's Reviews > Unseen Academicals

Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett
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Mar 20, 2013

it was amazing

This is my first Discworld novel in 4 years, the last one I read being the largely mediocre "Thud!" and a below average outing for the City Watch. I tried "Making Money" a couple of years ago but it was the first Discworld I couldn't finish it was so poor. That was really it for me, I thought I'd not be returning to Pratchett again. I felt sorry for Terry hearing of his illness but his continued forays into the dubious realm of "Young Adult" fiction often yielded poor books for a bloke in his 20s. The bafflingly crap "Amazing Maurice" and the increasingly tedious Tiffany Aching series "Ach it's sh*t!" seemed to be where Terry was happy to stay especially as his last book was (according to a friend who is similarly disenfranchised) a poor attempt at Castaway crossed with RL Stevenson, "Nation". I think it was seeing the Librarian on the front wearing a bandana kamikaze style that brought me back. Has Terry gone back and done justice to the series that made him? Thankfully the answer is a deafening cheer from the crowd. He has.

The wizards' food budget is threatened if they don't observe a centuries old tradition and take part in a foot-the-ball game, and off they go. It's as simple as that, plot wise. The familiar faces are all there, Rincewind and Luggage, Death, Ridcully and Ponder Stibbons, the Librarian, CMOT Dibbler, Commander Vimes, the Patrician and Wuffles, and the glorious setting that has become a character unto itself, the city of Ankh-Morpork.

Though there isn't much in the way of plot, the interactions between the characters more than makes up for it. The conversations between Vetinari and Ridcully were the highlights of the book for me - two superbly realised characters verbally sparring is a rare thing in fiction today and Terry writes their scenes masterfully. If I hadn't been told that Terry had Alzeimher's or that this was the first Pratchett novel he had to dictate I wouldn't have known the difference.

It should be said though that the bulk of the story follows several new characters: Glenda the head of the Night Kitchen at UU, her ditzy friend Juliet, the head of the Candle Vats and talented foot-the-ball-er Trev Likely, and the mysterious goblin Nutt with a past. Glenda is your typical strong headed, independent woman character that Terry is so adept at creating while Nutt, basically the hero, is your "perceived as bad because of his appearance but salt of the earth" character that Terry's also done many times previous. Trev and Juliet are a sort of Posh'n'Becks parody.

Despite the book not being a revolutionary new change to Discworld, it is the type of Discworld book that I loved reading back when i was 12. Discworld has never been about plot anyway, its about the characters and the places and Terry provides a masterclass in writing both in this book. It's also a tribute to his writing ability that you don't care that Death and Vimes appear for less than a page each, or that Rincewind and Luggage are bit part players while Vetinari seems worlds apart from the character he was when we first met him, you like getting to know the new characters just as much.

If, like me, you just enjoy spending time in Ankh-Morpork with its eccentric citizens and brilliantly named streets, as familiar and enjoyable as seeing an old friend, you'll love this book.
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