Football has come to the ancient city of Ankh-Morpork - not the old fashioned, grubby pushing and shoving, but the new, fast football with pointy hats for goalposts and balls the go glowing when you drop them. Now the wizards of Unseen University must win a match, without using magic: so they are in the mood for trying everything else!
I worried some more when I noticed the back proclaimed that
`The thing about football -- the important thing about football -- is that it is not just about football.'
I really dislike football. And somehow I had managed to miss the fact that football played any part in this book. I had terrible visions of Moving Pictures with football substituted for film. I know. The lack of faith is disturbing. I am happy to say I was mistaken. It is tempting to do the trite thing and say something along the lines of "The important thing about Unseen Academicals is, despite the cover and the blurb, that it is really not just about football." (Of course, I wouldn't do that; I am just saying you could…)
It is one of the better Wizards-books, if not the best.
It is Pratchett as I love him. Wizards galore. Chasing the Megapode. Football on the side, yes, but it was football with Wizards (more importantly, Pratchett's Wizards), which makes all the difference in the world. And, if I may draw a comparison to Moving Pictures again, I always found that the problem with that book was that the main characters of the Hollywood storyline were sadly two-dimensional. Here, that is not the case. Perhaps because there is more to their story than football -- their characters are not dependent on it. Perhaps pies just make for better writing. Mr Nutt is one of my favourite single-book characters. Closely followed by a number of the rest of the cast. They even rival the regulars.
Vetinari. I have been worried about him. He was growing more amazing with each passing book, and it seemed he would have to hit the ceiling at some point -- I was worried it would kill him. I found that this book changed tack a little: Vetinari is not as inscrutable as he usually is. I enjoyed this, though. I find I want to go back and read other books over, just to check … something. I am not sure what. And he played very well off both Glenda and Lady Margolotta.
Rincewind, Ponder Stibbons (brilliant), the Librarian, Ridcully, the Dean -- all present and accounted for. As is Sam Vimes, although I could have survived seeing more of him (even if Vimes is always better in a Vimes-centered book, and this was not one of those). The same goes for Vetinari (and Death, for that matter), of course -- but then I would really be happier if Pratchett's books were all never-ending and about one of them or the other.
I won't go into the story itself. You will have to read it (there is no way a summary can do justice to a Pratchett book -- it inevitably completely fails to hit the crucial point). Like in a lot of his books, there is not really any attempt to hide the moral(s) of the story; but, considering the moral(s), there does not appear to be any way of objecting to that. It stops short of becoming cloying, and being delivered in the Pratchettian (?) manner, I don't see how anyone could complain. (Someone probably will, though, knowing people.)
Now. Pratchett is ill. It seems tactless to bring it up, really. But he is. This it the first Discworld novel since I found out. I was worried. Very. Which is why I mention it. In order to say that mentioning Alzheimers seems entirely unnecessary (except the obligatory "please give heaps of money to research so that we do not lose this brilliant mind"). I was half expecting to see signs of a falling off. If nothing else, a new rhythm of writing should have had an impact. I found nothing. Just bubbly wit and damned good characters.
I laughed out loud quite often, felt warm and cuddly inside rather frequently, constantly attempted to read snatches aloud to my long-suffering boyfriend, watched in horror as the pages grew fewer, and yet when it was all over I felt quite satisfied. Apart from my ever-present urge to read more on Vetinari.
First, the cast. Glenda Sugarbean, cook extraordinaire, manages the Night Kitchen at Unseen University, with some assistance from her slow-witted but very beautiful friend Juliet. Young, streetsmart Trevor Likely runs the candle vats in the belly of the University. Then there's Mr. Nutt, a candle-dribbler at the University who is just trying to gain some worth in people's eyes. Because there is something not quite right about Mr. Nutt, not quite... normal. But no one can quite figure it out, Mr. Nutt least of all.
The occasion for the story is football. Football in Ankh-Morpork is a rough sport, as Trevor knows only too well: his father, the famous Dave Likely, died in a match. Each section of the city is fiercely loyal to its team. This, incidentally, sets up Trevor and Juliet, from different parts of town, to be romantic (but rather less poetic) lovers than Shakespeare's star-crossed duo. But the real love story I enjoyed in this tale was Glenda and Nutt. It was so vague at first, I wasn't sure Pratchett was going there, but I was so glad he did. Glenda is one of those characters you just love to be around, and as for Nutt — well, you root for him almost from the moment he walks onto the page. They're perfect together.
We have, of course, the usual hilarious scenes among the senior faculty of the University, this time funnier than ever because in order to keep a hefty bequest, they must form a football team and play a match. Yes, the wizards playing a match. It is not to be missed. And then there's the whole dwarf fashion scene, with Juliet becoming a star overnight for modeling the latest dwarfish innovation: micromail (it doesn't chafe, you know). The micromail mastermind, Pepé, is simply hilarious and probably made even better with Briggs's voicing.
I do take issue with Pratchett's moral judgments about the Supreme Being (all theoretical, of course, as Pratchett is an atheist). Pratchett here muses, through Lord Vetinari, that if there *is* a God, it is our duty to be morally superior to Him. Because everything wrong about the world is God's fault, not ours. I will never understand a belief system that refuses to believe in God because it judges Him to be reprehensible; it just isn't logical.
In any case, theology aside, this is a highly enjoyable story that makes me wonder why it's been so long since I picked up a Pratchett book. Discworld is always fun!
One might also get the sense that Vetinari is a touch over-exposed these days. He's a well-developed character by now, to be sure, but he's a political tank: he has a sharpness of mind rivalled only by Granny Weatherwax, and is tyrant of an entire city. And one senses that Pratchett realises this, given some references to how the city might turn on its ruler if just one of his schemes were to come unstuck... but one never feels that this genuinely might happen, since as we know Discworld is subject to the rules of Story. Possibly Lady Margolotta was brought into the book to provide some keen-minded counterbalance, but since she isn't an antagonist this barely happens, and her own character can't really develop without losing some of its enigmatic aspects.
Oh, and the proofreaders failed to catch a change in the name of a magazine between pages 319 and 326 (U.K. ed.).
And on the positive side? It's Pratchett, and the turns of phrase and minute observations of the human (and dwarf, and troll, and [spoiler redacted]) soul are typically as sharp as ever. It's Discworld, with the academic politics of UU shaken up a bit by means of some inter-varsity rivalry. It's also, frequently, football, and these are about the only conceivable circumstances in which I'd read, buy or recommend a book heavily concerned with football and quite heavily with the fashion industry. But it's mostly about people, and Pratchett has his finger as firmly on the comedies and tragicomedies of life as ever.
I should have realized that Pratchett never lets you down, and- this is a good point here- has amazing skill at writing characters. In my opinion characters are what make a book and if the characters are wonderful, the plot isn't nearly as important; on the other hand, extreme amounts of action won't make up for poorly written characters. This is the perfect case of characters making up for plot. Yes, the book is about soccer, but it's also mostly about the characters and things that happen to occur around soccer. (And I will say I kept getting confused when I saw the word "football". However, that's less to do about the British/American thing and more to do with the fact that I know absolutely nothing about either sport. The ball has to get to the other side, right?)
The characters... well, they're wonderfully rounded and detailed, just like all the other characters Pratchett has written. You know a character is well-written when you spend a lot of the book thinking "someone like this woman should bug me, but she doesn't". What I mean there is that one of the main female characters, Glenda, tends to be rather bossy and controlling and very strong-willed, but she's written in such a way that you understand why she's that way and know that there's far more to her than that. She even intrigues the Patrician, for pete's sake; that's definitely an interesting character trait right there. There are so many new characters in this book (and some recurring ones, of course), but they're all like this- well-written and interesting. I'm especially attached to Nutt, the main male character who is a hard-working and kind goblin-type. If Pratchett writes another book about him, I certainly won't complain!
As for the plot, soccer may be involved, but there's also young romance, lots of humor (hey, it's Discworld!), discord between wizards, the city coming to terms with a new race, people striving for more than what they are... Definitely don't make the mistake I did and assume you won't like the book just because of the theme!
Honestly, with the exception of the book starting off a bit slowly, which could have just been my imagination as I was grimacing in preparation for the book being all about sports, or possibly because since there are a lot of new characters, they had to be introduced, I can't think of a single thing I disliked about this book. I certainly don't mind all those new characters because we get to meet so many that are just so cool; by the end of the book I was liking them just as much as the reoccurring characters on the Disc.
I give "Unseen Academicals" 5 stars out of 5; a very high score, but I think it deserves it. It's not my favorite Discworld book, but it is now in my top 3 (nothing can pass "Soul Music" or "Thief of Time" for me, though!).
A lot of people have commented that this is very different from a lot of the Discworld novels; I agree. It's softer, for a start. The biting satire of some books shows a little less fang here, but I don't think the story is weaker for that. The satire and wit are still there, they're just ... better-natured. More cheerful. Amused. There were fewer lines in the book which provoked hysterical laughter, but more which provoked broad smiles.
The new characters of Glenda and Nutt were excellent - classic Pratchett characters - as were the supporting cast of wizards and associated university staff. I also liked seeing a more relaxed side to the Patrician, and thought his character was very well developed. It's not necessary to know much about football in order to appreciate this book - at worst you'll miss a couple of jokes about the offside rule and half-time pies - but the football parts are pretty entertaining. The academic rivalry with Brazeneck, the invention of micromail, the candle vats and the thugs all add the expected detail and richness to the story, and the Academicals' first match is nothing if not eventful.
The books set in Ankh-Morpork are generally my favourites among the Discworld series, and this was no exception.
The other storyline revolves around Glenda (a cook in the University who runs the night kitchen), her apprentice Juliet, Trevor Likely and Mr Nutt (work with the candles). Juliet is beautiful and becomes a model of micromail made by the dwarves (she has to wear a fake beard). She defers to Glenda who is like a big sister to her. Trevor’s dad used to be a famous foot-the-ball player and he has sworn never to play despite his talent and he falls hard for Juliet. They support opposing teams though so it’s a little Romeo and Juliet. Mr Nutt is another mystery and is labelled a Gnome but is something completely different it turns out.
I wanted to like this book but I really didn’t. I don’t like football so the general plot didn’t appeal to me. Plus the final match is commentated on kick by kick. Reading it was even more dull than watching a football match. I don’t really like the wizards and the only character I really warmed to was Glenda. The puns were pretty rubbish and I so nearly abandoned finishing it so many times which is nearly unheard of for me. I know there are a lot of die hard fans out there, but this was definitely a miss for me.
The humour was the fantastic Pratchett-style as usual as being grown-up yet at the same time really rude at times, which is beyond most people.
Possibly the most outstanding part of this novel for me was the character of Mister Nutt. Sublimely crafted by Pratchett, who has always managed to have sufficient characters that are 3D and not flat, shallow or passers-by. Mister Nutt is the epitome of everything wrong with humanity in the way he is treated, created et all, and he is also the epitome character that shows just how good Pratchett is at creating realistic characters, even if they are Goblins! (or any other number of mythical species, for that matter). Mister Nutt probably stands out as the most thoroughly thought through characters in the Discworld.
The wizards at the Unseen University find out that their budget is tied to a trust fund that only pays out if they play at least one football match a year, after realizing this means a change of diet they decide to play a game of football. This pleases Lord Vetinari who then asks the wizards to organize the sport so it can be taken from the street. But this changing of the game has an effect on the rest of the city, especially four workers inside the University whose lives and identities turned out to be tied to the success of the new version of football.
Although the wizards do have their share of point-of-views, Rincewind hardly appears in the book as well as The Librarian but the focus on Ponder Stibbons somewhat made up for it, they turned out not to be the focus of the book. In fact the most important character was Mister Nutt, an orc, who was “civilized” and was sent to Ankh-Morpork to change the minds of people about orcs. Yet Nutt was pushed into the background several times for his friends Trevor Likely, Glenda, and Juliet who had their own story arcs. All-in-all there was a lot of narratives that created the story, but it all felt unfocused especially when it came to the satire that felt more like painting the numbers than what Pratchett had previously done.
While enjoyable, Unseen Academicals is unfortunately all over the place with the narrative focus and set in and around the Unseen University the wizards took a back seat. Overall the book was good, but it just didn’t grab me and it didn’t make me laugh like previous books.
The action of the book centers around the game foot-the-ball. It is played in the streets, with many followers who can be violent and follow the game while rarely getting an actual glimpse of it. The wizards at UU, for financial reasons, are forced to take up the game. So they start reinventing it.
Pratchett's satire strikes all the typical targets, government, religion, you know the drill. It is the character of Mr. Nutt that really interests me. He is a genius, excessively polite, inventive, rational.... and an orc, which he finds out in the course of the book. So it is expected that any moment he will break into acts of mayhem and murder. This is an exploration of a topic that's gotten to bother me more and more over the years. When I was young I read Tolkien and accepted that of course orcs were bad. There are many books that rely on such depiction of evil, and that the only way to deal with it is to kill it. Pratchett takes this on. I've come to believe, as he obviously does, that once a being is sentient, it has as much or more chance of being good as bad, or a complex mixture of both like most people. Kudos to Mr. Pratchett for making the point brilliantly while never being heavy-handed about it.
New characters that you may fall in love with before the end. Not really about football. As usual Pterry writes about you and me.
If you haven't tried him then you must.
Perhaps try this or maybe a witches one. The first few are a bit juvenile, the rest are enlightening.
Its desire to parody the various genres (most notably romance and sports, with the usual healthy dash of fantasy) made it feel occasionally more formulaic than need be, particularly when combined with the fact that large parts of it felt formulaic (or at least derivative) with regards to Pratchett's previous Discworld books.
You used to be able to rely on Sir Terry (he was knighted in 2009 for services to literature) for at least 2 books a year, but age and illness (he was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers disease in 2007) have affected his once prolific output. Unseen Academicals is the first Discworld book since 2007’s Making Money.
The Discworld books can be hit and miss, Unseen Academicals is, to my way of thinking, a hit. The loose story concerns the efforts of the Wizards of Ankh Morpork’s Unseen University to play Discworld’s version of football against a team comprised of more accomplished footballers from Ankh Morpork’s poorer and less genteel neighbourhoods.
I saw one blogger say that he hadn’t gotten around to reading this, and wasn’t particularly interested, because it was about football and he didn’t much like football. That attitude can be put to rest by a quote from Pratchett himself on the back of the book: The thing about football - the important thing about football - is that it is not just about football. Being an avid follower of Australian Rules and a somewhat fanatical supporter of my team I can agree with that statement. Only 10% of any widely followed sport is about the game itself.
This particular installment deals with class, food, cosmetics, fashion, friendship, religion and occasionally football. That’s the thing about the Discworld books, they tend to hold modern society up to a looking glass and score goals with their criticism. I’ve often thought the key to their success is that you have fantasy tropes living in their typical medieval society, but they think like 21st century people and try to solve medieval situations with 21st century logic.
The series is episodic, the reader does not have to have read any of the other 36 books to enjoy this one, although it will improve the experience if there is some knowledge of the recurring characters. Pratchett has developed a large supporting cast over the past 26 years.
Unseen Academicals reunites readers with the characters of: Mustrum Ridcully (Arch Chancellor of UU), his much put upon assistant Ponder Stibbons, the Librarian (who happens to be my personal favourite character), the inept wizard Rincewind (he started the whole series back in 1983 with The Colour of Magic) and Ankh Morpork’s unnerving and menacing ruler, former assassin Havelock Vetinari. There are also cameos from other fan favourites: Death, the Luggage, Sam Vimes and Cut Me Own Throat Dibbler. The bulk of the story follows the new characters of: mysterious young candle dribbler Mr Nutt, his best friend, the streetwise Trev Likely, the very sensible and responsible Glenda Sugarbean, who runs the Unseen University’s Night Kitchen (wizards keep unusual hours and are most likely to want a pie or a sugary treat along with a good cup of tea in the middle of the night), Glenda’s friend and object of Trev’s affections, the beautiful, but somewhat vacuous; Juliet.
As a story it hangs together remarkably well, while simply meandering along collecting the author’s thoughts on a myriad of subjects and articulated in only the way he can. I have to confess to being less than impressed by Making Money, and that was over 2 years ago. Unseen Academicals was a welcome return to form from the recently knighted author.
Welcome back Terry, you have been missed!
So now the Discworld series has grown to 30+ books, including a few teen titles. Too late to jump in? Not at all! Characteristically of Pratchett's stories, this has a mix of fantasy, satire, and slapstick that suits my weird sense of humor. Trevor, Glenda, Juliet, and Nutt are fun characters to spend time with, and I liked seeing their relationships change (with more than a nod to Romeo and Juliet thrown in for good measure) and each of them grow over the course of the book. This one stands with Lords and Ladies as one of my favorite in the series.
The book is LONG. There are at least three plots: the acceptance of an Orc, the world of fasion, and the taming of football. At least one of them is not important enough to clog up this book. Each has merit and is brought to life in Pratchett's wonderful way. There is just to much going on and it detracts from the many positive elements in this book.
This might seem a little heavy, but it's what I'm thinking about at the moment, but the idea that struck a real chord with me is the merciless examination of where we think somebody's worth lies. What gives a person value as a person. Is it what they can do? Where they come from? What they're like with other people? Or is there something intrinsic? I can't think of another author who poses these fundamental questions of personhood with such insight to such a wide audience.
On the surface, this didn't look like a book I would enjoy as much as the others in the series, having a long-term and in-born hatred of football, but as the cover says, football isn't just about football, and neither is this book.
Perhaps not as full of comedy as some of the other books, and perhaps less obviously fantastical, slapstick has been replaced, in small part, by a greater degree of pathos than ever, which is something of which I greatly approve.
Having said all this, the book is still, unmistakably, a work of comic genius, just one that is all grown up.
And despite the sadness at the core, this is very much a funny novel, much funnier than the Watch ones have tended to be (which is not a criticism; I love the Watch books no matter how funny they are), and Pterry was absolutely right, the Librarian is great in goal. But there's nothing quite holding this together - it lacks the aspect of being a police procedural, and it's not like Soul Music or The Truth, which have a Roundworld structure he can borrow so you know how the story is going to go. This, on the other hand, seemed a bit loose. Which is a great shame, because it's full of great stuff, but I am mildly disappointed.
It's cosmically, unfairly ironic that the wittiest satirist of our generation should have been struck with early-onset Alzheimer's. But the injustice has at least been tempered with some small mercy: due to his rare type of Alzheimers, though he is unable any longer to type his own words, Mr. Pratchett is still able to conjure them up from the well of his inexhaustible genius.
I don't need to say that this is hilarious, brilliant, incisive. All I need to say is: This is one of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. 'Nuff said.