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Book Review : Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Pratchett's most recent book sees him returning to familiar territory. This time the citizens of Ankh-Morpork become convulsed with football fever (that's football as in soccer). The set up is that the wizards of Unseen University discover they have to play a match against Ankh-Morpork United. Ridcully, The Patrician, Ponder Stibbons, Rincewind etc. are all present and correct.

Shoehorned into this story is another retelling of one of Pratchett's favourite themes : that of monsters being, you know, not really monstrous. In the past we've had vampires and trolls and Death. This time it's - well I won't say. Think of a fantasy creature he hasn't used in the role and you might well hit upon it. Am I the only one who's a little tired of the fashion for just-misunderstood-nice-guy-really monsters? Can't we have some baddies that are actually dangerous for once?

Because there's a frustration in much of Pratchett's writing it seems to me : a reluctance to follow-through with ominous promises. Here, as always, there are characters who, we are told, are capable of dreadful things. Dreadful! But they just never seem genuinely alarming as Pratchett always bails out and refuses to allow them to really scare. He goes for the laughs instead. Which is fine, but the books thus remain slightly childish.

If this all sounds rather negative, then I should also say I enjoyed Unseen Academicals greatly. I love Pratchett. I believe I'm correct in saying I've read every book he's ever published. His wit sparkles as brightly as ever here. I'm not convinced you really read Pratchett for the plots and structures. You read them, a lot of the time, for the sentences : the observations, the asides. the puns. Here, there's a lot of amusing stuff on celebrity culture and the gentrification of football, for example.

So, a satisfying and amusing book. Pratchett's powers remain undimmed. Recommended.


  1. Actually I was really excited before I started reading it, but a bit disappointed afterwards... he could have done a lot more with the football side of it! Certainly no characters as memorable as the ones in the witches cycle...

    The office politics are spot on though. As ever.

  2. Hi

    Oh Pratchett's greatest (for me) appeal is his never ending faith to find the er.. humanity and warmth of every imaginable creature one could imagine living and breathing in Discworld universe.

    There are never bad and good. Always shades of grey.


    I loved this book, loved it! Go forth and read this! Immerse yourself in the Pratchett world - you may never want to leave...


    Take care

  3. hampshireflyer,

    Yes, Granny Weatherwax would have to be my favourite of his characters. I do like the Patrician too, in small doses.

  4. Old Kitty,

    I know, I know, and that's fine. I love his humanity too. Like I say I'm a fan : read all the books, played all the computer games. I just long for a baddie who is actually bad from time to time ...

  5. I read the first few TP books and enjoyed them (Mort is my favourite), but I couldn't muster the will to go on reading about Discworld. And he's still writing about it! However, he has a great sense of humour and a lovely style.

    I'm on team Real Baddies, too.

  6. For me, it's his cheerfulness that makes the books so attractive. Real life has enough pain and unhappiness; what I look for in books is a chance to escape.

  7. fairyhedgehog,

    Fair point and I love them for that too. I just find it gets a bit wearing being promised someone really despicable and dangerous all the time ...

  8. Carcer.
    and, though perhaps not a total baddie, Pepe.


I'd love to know what you think.