Book Review 2009 #52: Unseen Academicals

My next book is another book-for-review deal, the latest Discworld book by the irrepressible Mr. Pratchett…


NB: I received a review copy of this book.
Football (Soccer to us Americans). Romeo and Juliet (with a dash of Cyrano de Bergerac). Secret pasts of characters. Cooking.
Such is the Matter of Unseen Academicals, the latest Discworld novel from Terry Pratchett. Centering on Unseen University, Pratchett takes us not only into the doings of the wizards there, but the “little people” who make the University work. We meet Glenda, head of the Night Kitchen and possibly one of the best cooks anywhere. We meet Trev Lively, son of the famous football player Dave Lively (who scored an unprecedented four goals in his career in the old and illegal version of football played on Discworld’s streets). We meet Juliet, a fashion star waiting to be born from her humble beginnings in the kitchen. And we meet the mysterious Mr. Nutt, who is from Uberwald. He’s a candle dribbler, but also amazingly educated for someone of his station. Oh, and he is a monster of unusual stripe…
How is it? Well, while I was entertained, UA is frankly, not as good as some of Pratchett’s best novels. There are a few things here which are not as well integrated as other plotlines in the novel. Stuff that felt like they should be more important, or were going to be, but never quite came to fruition. I was expecting more out of them than we actually got. Its possible, due to my scattershot reading of Pratchett’s work that there are some characterization issues that I am missing. Lord Vetinari feels different than he does in the novels I have read, for example.
On the other hand, a very good Pratchett as opposed to a first-rank Pratchett is still better than a lot of the dreck out there. And there are wonderful things in the novel that frankly made me laugh aloud while reading it. The footnote about the Explorer’s Guild, for example. Or the offhand mentioned consequence of yet another strange addition to the Watch. The character growth of Ponder Stibbons, who is rapidly becoming a force within the University to rival Ridcully himself. Or the climatic game for that matter. (although there is an incident in the game involving how the Librarian is removed from goalkeeper that felt very wrong).
I have a large gap in unread Pratchett novels that was little handicap in reading this novel, and so I can unreservedly recommend this latest Discworld novel to readers of all levels of familiarity with Pratchett’s work. Is it up to his highest standards? No. On the other hand, only very good Pratchett is still much better than much of the competition.