Review: Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

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Wizards and Football…Hold on, did you just mention two of my favourite things together? Unseen University and Football, Discworld and Football. I think my brain just melted a bit.

That was my reaction when Unseen Academicals was released. Sadly my reading list was too large. But now I have finally gotten around to reading Terry Pratchett’s foray into the tug and war of foot-the-ball. Being upfront, I had very high expectations of this book. Did it meet those expectations? Short answer – no. However there was no way it could have ever done so. So I will pass my judgement with an open mind.

All of the Discworld novels are entertaining. It is extremely rare to pick one up and not turn the pages with enjoyable ease. Unseen Academicals is no different. Give it a go, you most likely won’t regret it.

To begin with, I thought there would be a lot more football in this book. And yes, the overarching premise is a revolution to Ankh Morpork’s ball game, to make it more closely resemble modern day football, yet there is more focus on a handful of characters working in the University. I found them genuinely likable for the most part. I wasn’t in love with them though.

The story is tied into one of these characters in particular, Mr Nutt, who is an interesting fellow; polite, skilled and articulate. I liked Mr Nutt the most and will not go into revealing any of his secrets. I don’t want to spoil the book. Any part with him in it kept me interested and it was worth reading just to uncover more about him.

I found the toughest parts to get through those focusing on Glenda; the tough, motherly night kitchen cook. She was a great character, but the end of the book had a lot of Glenda. I feel it would have been better served with a bit more football or focus on the actual Academics.

My biggest criticism is an odd one, but it is the fact that the Librarian did not get enough of a cameo. I can understand that a character who cannot speak is a difficult one to write about in length, but this was the opportunity to do so! (An Orangutan for goodness sakes. The perfect goal keeper.) His participation in the actual football had so much potential, but was too brief to be memorable.

That aside, Vetinari stands out once again. I don’t need to go on in length as to how well Pratchett writes this tyrannical man. And the side story, which sees Juliet, one of the University’s staff, modelling dwarf designer clothes, was an interesting change. More dwarf culture is never a bad thing.

The sporting culture of Ankh Morpork was terrifically colourful, even if those colours were primarily sickly shades of browns, yellows and greens. You get a real sense of the common people milling together in the streets and those scenes stand out for me with vivid imagery.

Overall this was more of a story about a few quirky individuals, which used the coming of proper football to the Discworld as a backdrop. A little part of me wonders, if the roles had been reversed and the actual game had been centre stage, with the drama of the University’s staff less prominent, would it have made for a better story.

We will never know. But we will have enjoyed the book regardless!

Rating 4/5

Review: The Truth by Terry Pratchett

Truth

There is no doubt about it, whether you enjoy his books or not, Terry Pratchett is a master of storytelling. His ability to use a single sentence or word to paint an image in the reader’s mind is incredible. In a genre full of exposition and detailed description he is able to convey, with ease, vivid and lively locations and diverse and quirky characters using phrases that in themselves tell you nothing about their physical appearance.

‘The Truth’, discworld’s 25th novel, is no different. Characters dance from the pages and within moments of being introduced to them you feel as though you know exactly where they have come from, what they had for breakfast, and what they like to do on their weekends. Ankh-Morpork continues to evolve into a squalid, yet loveable cesspool of civilisation that reminds us of everything that the real world and the Fantasy genre have to offer.

Something I find when I read a discworld novel is that from the first page I have a warm feeling and thoroughly enjoy Pratchett’s introductions. However a fault, if I can find any in his writing, is that I tend to find my interest diminishing the further I read. A friend once said to me, “I feel like when I read one of his books that he got a really good idea, began writing and then realised he had to finish it somehow, almost as an afterthought.” Occasionally I have to agree.

‘The Truth’ deals with the arrival of newspapers and journalism to Ankh-Morpork and for the most part the characters are not too different from ones that have appeared in previous books. In many ways I was reminded of “Going Postal”, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. The main character, William is likeable enough and the rest of the cast (dwarves, vampires and talking dogs), all add a certain charm. The villains in the book are also well presented and a great take off of the ‘brawns and brains’ crime outfit.

The book’s strength is in its evolution of the newspaper. As things come together and William begins to get papers into the streets, you find yourself wanting to read more and see what happens next. The sub plot of the attempted replacement of the Patrician, I found to be less interesting, though vital to the story. That being said, as ever Lord Vetinari stands out as a brilliant character, and when he is involved in the dialogue I cannot get enough.

Without spoiling anything, I felt the end of the story was average on the whole. Though not by any means poorly plotted or written. I think I was merely expecting the tale to go in a different direction. I did though really enjoy “The Truth” and find myself smiling whenever I read one of the discworld novels.

As with most of Pratchett’s novels I would recommend this to my friends. I would however recommend it after most of the others that I have read. Therefore my final rating reflects not poor quality, but a comparison to his other great works. If you are seeking a smile and a wonderful mockery of the modern newspaper give it a go. If you are looking for your first discworld novel, then start with ‘The Colour of Magic’ first.

Rating: 3.5/5