Thursday, 22 November 2012

Book 72 of 2012: Unseen Academicals

This is the thirty-seventh Discworld book, one that I would have been reading shortly even without the Autumn challenge spurring me on. I may have bumped it up the list a little way just to make sure I would definitely get it read in time to count, but as I've been slowly working my way through Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels since the end of 2011, I've been looking forward to it for a while.

It's the first for several books that focuses largely on the inhabitants of Unseen University, an academic institution for the training of wizards. The game of foot-the-ball has been played in Ankh-Morpork for quite a while and Vetinari (the city's leader) has got an idea to help clean up the game. At about the same time the wizards have discovered a clause from one of their financiers that states that in order to receive their money, they have to have a team which takes part in the football matches. Meanwhile, the Patrician has also helped to bring a young *ahem* goblin into the city, who is now working in the vats of Unseen University (as a candle dribbler, got to get that right to give the place the right ambience) named Nutt, who is not quite what he seems.

It's sort of a story of upstairs-downstairs, following the escapades of the wizards as they try to develop the new rules of football, and those who work in the University (in the Night Kitchen) Glenda and Juliet, (and in the vats) Trevor and Nutt. As with any Terry Pratchett story, there's several smaller plot lines all working together into a larger whole; a romance between Trev and Juliet, what Nutt really is and where he's come from, Glenda's relationships with both Nutt and Juliet, Archchancellor Ridcully and the Archchancellor-formerly-known-as-the-Dean, the game of football. They start off more or less separately, but then gradually come together. Which is what I've come to enjoy and expect in the Discworld stories.

While the original Discworld books kind of started with the wizards, and I find them interesting characters, they'd not really among my favourites. I don't mind odd glimpses of Ridcully or the Dean, but I prefer the books with the Witches or the Watch over the Wizards. All the same, I liked this one because although there was a lot of focus on the wizards, there was a fairly equal split between them and the other characters. It had the classic Discworld humour that I've come to know and love (poor John, ends up sitting next to me reading out daft bits that probably make no sense whatsoever to him, but which are hilarious to me). There were dozens of quotes that I wanted to copy out (I squeezed eight into a space in my book journal that normally holds about five) and there were more footnotes than there have been in some of the other recent books, which I was happy about because I love the little asides.

My favourite characters were probably Nutt and Glenda. Nutt was just wonderfully innocent and I loved the way he lectured people. And Glenda, well, she was a nice contrast to all the men and I liked the way she looked after everyone. Normally I don't have a problem picturing the characters in Terry Pratchett's novels, but in this one I did struggle to figure out how old everyone was. I ended up settling with the four staff characters being in their late teens or early twenties, but there wasn't much of a clue either way.

I'm glad that although the story was about football, it wasn't just about football. I'm just not that interested in football and I was worried that I wouldn't enjoy this book for that reason. Funnily enough, I really enjoyed the bits where they were training, coming up with rules and the commentary on the game itself (especially the bit with one of the professors on the wizarding team telling off the crowd who are chanting his name because he wants them to include all of his titles). Some bits were probably lost on me considering how terminally non-sporty I am. :lol:

I also liked seeing Rincewind again (though he's not one of my favourites) and the Librarian (who is). Ponder Stibbons has developed well too, I think he first cropped up in Hogfather and I think I have a tiny book-crush on him - he's a magical geek (be still my heart)! As far as reading it as a standalone book, I think it probably benefits from some knowledge of previous books. Sam Vimes crops up so to fully appreciate him you'd probably need to read at least one of the Watch books. The cabinet which appeared in Making Money is used again, though with very little explanation which I wonder if perhaps it would be a bit confusing. But otherwise I don't think there's anything there that could spoil the book if it was the first of the Discworld books to be read. It's not quite up there with my favourites, but it's always nice to have a new Terry Pratchett book and I enjoyed this one a lot.
"'He saved my life!'
'That's no basis for a relationship! A polite thank you would have sufficed.'"
Page 143

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