The thirty-seventh novel in the Discworld Series
UK hbk: Doubleday, 8 October 2009 (978-0-385-60934-0)
Apart from the standard trade edition, 3,000 numbered, specially bound and slip-cased copies were produced as a ‘Limited Collector’s Edition’ for Waterstones. (These did not have a separate ISBN in the book, only on the plastic outer wrapping – 978-0-385-61782-6).
Proofs: c. 145 copies
Pbk: Corgi, 10 June 2010 (978-0-552-15337-9)
Black/gold B format: Corgi, 2011 (978-0-552-16533-4)
B-format reissue with Paul Kidby cover: 2014 (978-0-552-16771-0)
Large print: Thorpe/Charnwood, 2010 (978-1-44480-317-4)
USA hbk: HarperCollins, 6 October 2009 (978-0-06-116170-4)
Pbk: Harper, 28 September 2010 (978-0-06-116172-8) Also contains, at the end, the opening pages of I Shall Wear Midnight.
Premium pbk: Harper, November 2014 (978-0-06-233500-5)
Bulgarian: Невиждани Академици, trs. Katia Ancheva, Arkhont-V Ood, 2014 (978-954-422-103-4)
Czech: Nevídaní Akadenikové, trs. Jan Kantůrek, Talpress, 2010 (978-80-7197-392-8)
Dutch: Academische Boys, trs. Venugopalan Ittekot, De Boekerij/Mynx, 2010 (978-90-225-5484-5)
Estonian: Nähtamatud Akadeemikud, trs. Allan Eichenbaum, jacket illus. Hillar Mets, Varrak, October 2010 (978-9985-3-2117-1)
Finnish: FC Akateemiset, trs. Mika Kivimäki, Karisto, April 2014 (978-951-23-5724-6)
French: Allez les mages!, trs. Patrick Couton, L’Atalante, October 2010, (978-2-84172-521-2)
German: Der Club der unsichtbaren Gelehrten, trs. Gerald Jung, Manhattan, September 2010 (978-3-442-54673-2) With folding pbk covers.
Mass market: Goldmann, July 2012 (978-3-442-47757-9)
Polish: Niewidoczni Akademicy, trs. Piotr W. Cholewa, Prószyński i S-ka, May 2010 (978-83-7648-377-1)
Russian: Незримые академики, trs. , Eksmo, 1 June 2015 (978-5-699-69984-1) [not yet seen]
Spanish: El Atlético Invisible, trs.Gabriel Dols Gallardo, Plaza y Janes 2 July 2012 (978-84- 01-35275-1)
Pbk: Debols!llo, January 2014 (978-84-9032-631-2)
Imagine Harry Potter rewritten by Monty Python: that’s the mood of Pratchett’s return to Discworld.
This account of Unseen University’s entry into the world of soccer (or, as they occasionally call it, ‘foot-the-ball’) pushes past the usual conventions of satire to offer equal parts absurdist philosophy and heartwarming romance. Here, all the professors are ponderous buffoons as well as wizards, though occasionally they indulge those they consider their inferiors with ‘the sarcasm of a born pedagogue’. Those inferiors generally have a whole lot more common sense and occasionally more learned erudition, particularly in the case of our hero, Mr Nutt. A lowly candle dipper who is also a goblin and may well be something else as well, the humble Nutt ultimately reveals more brain power than anyone else in the novel, along with a variety of other powers, even though his background makes this intellectual range and depth seem unlikely. When Unseen University decides to field a soccer team, Nutt emerges as the coach, the driving force and the potential star, using his ‘talent for pattern recognition in developing situations’ to train a team of players who previously had no conception of teamwork. In the process, Nutt not only falls in love with a worthy cook no one else considers lovely, he also helps his mate win the heart of the cook’s helper, who has somehow become the rage of the land as a fashion model. Pratchett has great sport with a university that employs a Professor of Cruel and Unusual Geography and Chair of Indefinite Studies and spouts platitudes such as ‘if we can make a tradition out of not observing another tradition, that’s doubly traditional’. Of course, that’s not such a weird comment in a society whose adages include ‘the leopard may change its shorts’ and ‘thirst springs eternal’.
A witty addition to the long-running fantasy series. Kirkus Reviews
Pratchett’s 37th novel in the Discworld series doesn’t have a female medieval ghost [the previous book reviewed in this article by GW did]; then again it doesn’t need one. It’s got Sir Terry and it’s got football.
The beautiful game has come to the ancient mercantile city of Ankh-Morpork – but how beautiful is it?
The wizards of Unseen University have to win a match without using magic, but that doesn’t mean they can’t – and won’t – try anything and everything else. Satirical, historical, fantastical and irresistible.
‘Thrillers’, by Geoffrey Wansell, in Daily Mail
ONCE upon a time, an author had a whizz of an idea, namely, to write a book about a place where wizards were trained in their magic. This institution would even choose the positions of various inmates by use of a talking hat – but no, it’s not what you’re thinking. This is not JK Rowling but Terry Pratchett who, more than a decade before Harry Potter came on the scene, created the Unseen University in his Discworld books. Well, it’s back in the latest offering, Unseen Academicals, complete with the banana-eating librarian, a wizard who accidentally turned himself into an ape and refused to reverse the spell, deciding he much preferred life that way.
How to start to explain the wonder of Discworld to someone who hasn’t been there before? Pratchett’s creation is a flat world, supported on the backs of four great elephants who themselves balance on the shell of a giant turtle, Great A’Tuin, as he (or she) swims slowly through space. The first few were extremely funny; the 30-odd since then have elapsed into gentle satire, with everything from death to Hollywood examined under Terry’s benign eye.
In this latest the subject matter is football, with a dash of Romeo and Juliet thrown in. The lazy wizards of the university are appalled to discover that under the terms of an endowment they must compete in an annual football competition and engage the services of Nutt, a goblin with a dark secret lurking in his past to help them improve their game.
Nutt works deep in the bowels of the Unseen University, dribbling candles alongside Trev, a football fanatic who belongs to one group of supporters and who falls in love with Juliet, a kitchen maid from a family who supports the other side. And then Juliet starts modelling clothes made by dwarves…
It’s all too silly for words and exactly what’s needed to cheer us all up in the autumnal gloom. Terry has lost none of his ability to raise a laugh: supporters’ clubs are a problem as people hit each other over the head with them; people seen to be getting too big for their boots are accused of letting the side up. And so on. It’s well known that Terry, now deservedly Sir Terence, is suffering from Alzheimer’s. It certainly hasn’t shown through in the work. I’ll wager there are a few more books in him yet. Virginia Blackburn, The Sunday Express
When Terry Pratchett announced that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, fans of his Discworld novels must have wondered if that spelt the end of the series. Well, not yet, as the arrival of Unseen Academicals proves. This is the 37th in a body of work so vast that it has spawned its own concordance, yet the quality remains as high as ever and the laughs as plentiful.
The wizards at Unseen University risk losing a valuable bequest – the one that funds their lavish dinners – unless they can field a football team. Regular readers will know that to wizards smoking is a vocation and their idea of healthy exercise is lifting a fork, but they set to, with the inevitable bickering.
Football, as practised in the city of Ankh Morpork, is the sort of all-in, no-holds-barred mass punch-up that draws little distinction between spectators (‘the Shove’) and players and which can still be found in the more rustic corners of Britain. Luckily, the city’s tyrant, Lord Vetinari, has decided to tame the anarchy, and when an ancient set of rules turns up by suspicious coincidence, the wizards are instructed to use these as the basis of a modern version of the game (with no magic).
Meanwhile, below stairs, we meet Glenda, head of the Night Kitchen; her beautiful but dim friend Juliet; Trev, the son of a famous footballer who has forsworn the game; and Nutt, an overeducated goblin whose past is a mystery.
It is Nutt’s journey of self-discovery that is the spine of the narrative, but football and the wizards provide most of the fun.
You can’t call what Pratchett does satire – it’s far too good-natured for that – but he has a satirist’s instinct for the absurd and a cartoonist’s eye for the telling detail.
Like all the Discworld novels, Unseen Academicals rewards a second reading. As ever it is peppered with allusions, from Keats to the Lewinsky affair, but, like Wodehouse, Pratchett wears his learning lightly and the pleasure of rereading is in teasing them out. Peter Ingham, in The Daily Telegraph
The 37th Discworld novel finds the wizards of Unseen University facing an unthinkable calamity – swingeing cuts in their food budget. It turns out that the bequest which meets 87.4% of the wizards’ ginormous food bill – all that cheese, all those pies – requires them to take part in a game of foot-the-ball, the violent and basically goal-less street sport beloved by the common folk of Ankh-Morpork.
It is up to the ever-diligent Ponder Stibbons to develop the shoving and gouging of old-school foot-the-ball into a game fit for wizards. He introduces the offside rule, goalkeepers, pointy hats for goalposts, a whistle for the referee instead of a poisoned dagger, and a ball that goes ‘gloing’ rather than ‘clunk’.
As for the coaching, that becomes the responsibility of Mr Nutt, a lowly apprentice down in the vats who looks a bit like a goblin, talks like Jeeves and shows the sort of appreciation of the aesthetics and philosophy of the game that makes Arsene Wenger sound like a saloon-bar dullard.
Meanwhile, below stairs in the Night Kitchen, home of the magnificent pies with the pickled onions in the crust, romance is blossoming. First to fall under Cupid’s spell are Trev Likely, son of the legendary foot-the-baller Dave Likely, and the gorgeous but dim kitchen skivvy Juliet Stollop, who is about to become famous as a model for goblins’ micromail (very strong, no chafing). Then it’s the turn of Juliet’s boss, the not-so-comely Glenda Sugarbean, to find love, not just in the bodice-ripping fiction of Iradne Comb-Buttworthy but in her own life and the unlikely shape of Mr Nutt.
There are, however, problems. Trev and Juliet belong to hostile footballing clans – he to Dimwell Old Pals, she to Dolly Sisters FC – and Glenda and Mr Nutt face the small difficulty that he is in fact an orc, a honed killing machine created by the Evil Emperor.
As for the prospects of the Unseen University’s new football team, well, these don’t look too good. The wizards can’t tear themselves away from the cheeseboard long enough to learn the game’s basics, they’ve been forbidden from using magic during the match, and their opponents are Ankh-Morpork United, ‘the toughest, nastiest bunch of buggers outside of the Tanty’.
There has, however, been encouraging progress with the strip – the original large UU letters on the front having been scrapped because they looked like a bosom – and the chants: Professor Ritornello’s plainchant composition (‘Hail the unique qualities of Magister Bengo Macarona! Of Macarona the unique qualities Hail!’) having been replaced by the more straightforward ‘One Professor Macarona, there’s only one Professor Macarona’, although with his academic honours and qualifications appended at his own insistence so that one verse takes up a page.
The secret of Terry Pratchett’s comic fantasy isn’t so much the wackiness of the fantasy as the reliability of the comedy. The very least you get in any of these 400 pages is amiable, agreeable chuntering, and there is an instructively regular provision of terrific lines: the atmosphere in the Uncommon Room is ‘as cold as meltwater’, Archchancellor Ridcully is astonished at noticing the intelligence in a servant’s expression and thinks that ‘it was as if a chicken had winked’, a lingering kiss from the luscious Juliet sounds like ‘a tennis ball being sucked through the strings of a racket’.
There’s equally effective quality control of the comic riffs – as when Stibbons replies with exhaustive honesty when Ridcully asks what the wizards need to learn about football – and of the jokes, such as Dr Hix’s evil plan ‘to spread darkness and despondency throughout the world by the means of amateur dramatics’, or the second verse of the Ankh-Morpork national anthem, which consists mainly of ner-ner-ners interspersed with occasional coherent words, because that’s all anyone would remember of a second verse.
Thirty-seven books in and with sales now topping 60m, Discworld is still going strong. That would be remarkable enough, were its author not also now writing against the loudly ticking clock of his Alzheimer’s diagnosis last year – and doing so with undimmed, triumphant exuberance. Harry Ritchie, in The Guardian
The Terry Pratchett who emerges from his latest, 37th, Discworld novel, Unseen Academicals, is a very different proposition from the one suggested by his inaugural effort, The Colour of Magic, back in 1983. Then, aged 35, Pratchett had not yet cemented his distinctive style: the first novel was all colourful, literary flourishes, a more complicated writing style, obscure characters such as his surreally walking treasure chest (‘The Luggage’) and Rincewind, the cynical, ineffective wizard who has intermittently cropped up since.
By the late 1980s, he had settled into a groove: his characters were expanding (the City Watch; the indolent wizards in Unseen University; the thieves, the beggars, the movie-makers, Death et al) and the perennial Pratchett allegory began rearing its head like a two-headed beast. Cue easy pops at Hollywood (Moving Pictures) or, say, Christmas (Hogfather).
We also must mention Pratchett’s 2007 diagnosis with Alzheimer’s disease; something that is clearly not affecting the quality of his work. His universe is as fresh and arch as it always was; all the more impressive considering that Pratchett has now sold almost 10 million books in the UK, generating more than £70m in revenue. He has now either written, co-written or been creatively associated (including high-profile collaborations with Neil Gaiman, another literary sorcerer) with 100 books. While the majority are based in Discworld, there is also a highly successful range of tomes for children, which include the Carnegie Medal-winning The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents (2001).
So you’d have thought that, by now, Pratchett would be running out of ideas; thankfully, however, the universe he created 25 years ago just keeps on giving. In Unseen Academicals, the focus of his mild form of satire is football (providing the principal narrative strain of the book): cue allusions to ‘playing them buggers in Dimwell’ until 3am, and ‘play until full-time, first dead man or first score’ in true Ankh-Morpork style. Other targets for Pratchett’s satirical quill include the fashion world, former polytechnics, the tabloid media’s obsession with showbiz, and even the Monica Lewinsky affair.
The plot focuses once again on Unseen University’s sorcerers. The conditions of a vital bequest depend on the wizards fielding a team for a spot of what they term ‘foot-the-ball’ or Poore Boys’ Funne. (‘Mobs in the streets, kicking and punching and yelling… and they were the players.’) A nice sub-plot focuses on the below-stairs staff at the university, including the mysterious goblin Nutt and the model-like Juliet, a particular target of lust for the bored wizards. It’s a triumphant effort.
And then comes the illustrated edition of Pratchett’s The Carpet People – ostensibly one of his ‘kiddies’ books, originally written in 1971, but rewritten 20 years later (Pratchett says he has ‘co-authored’ it with himself). It has been published with Pratchett’s own coloured-in scribbles accompanying the text. Very much in the spirit of his Truckers trilogy, the book sees a tribe, the Munrungs, navigating their way across a carpet (‘The Lord of the Rings on a rug’); cue various allusions in a Honey I Shrunk the Kids way to the deathly results of vacuuming, or the mining of metals from a fallen coin. Pratchett’s illustrations have a loose, less-bloody, Ralph Steadman quality to them. They are not all that numerous, however, making this principally a must for collectors.
‘My memory is still pretty good. I can write, and actually I’ve no problem with plotting; the plot for Unseen Academicals [came] together in my head beautifully,’ Pratchett told The Bookseller earlier this month. ‘But like a lot of writers, I love the therapy of hitting the keys, with my brain going at the pace of the typewriter. It’s very frustrating to lose a skill like that. [But] while I still think I can write with my brain, we’ll find ways of getting round not being able to write with my hands.’ Long may it continue. Rob Sharp in The Independent on Sunday
Terry Pratchett’s Unseen Academicals (HarperCollins) is about the parallel development of football (soccer, to Americans) in the alternate and funnier reality that is the Discworld; yet as always, there’s much more swimming in the depths of his Monty Python-esque stories. Humorous but thoughtful, Unseen Academicals combines early Pratchett at his lightest (Pyramids, Moving Pictures, Guards! Guards!) with late Pratchett at his heaviest (Monstrous Regiment, Night Watch, Thud!), resulting in an easy read with a heavy afterthought.
The structure of Unseen Academicals comes in three main parts, all of which complexly interleave and affect each other throughout.
The first third involves the professorial wizards of Unseen University. The “Wizards” sub-series of Discworld almost always read like Oxford novels on acid (good acid, mind you), and this part of Unseen Academicals will be quite familiar to the Pratchett reader. We’ve got Archchancellor Ridcully at his most Ridcullyness, Ponder at his elbow, various assorted high-ranking wizard professors and students, a new Evil Wizard, the Librarian, even a Rincewind cameo.
Shaking things up, the Dean is now an Archchancellor at the academy in Quirm. Ridcully views his best friend’s departure as a betrayal, and when the Dean comes visiting, we see the birth of ye olde Oxford versus Cambridge rivalry on Discworld.
The second third is medium-heavy Pratchett, reading like one of his ‘One-off in Ankh-Morpork’ books. Here we see the development of football from the perspective of the lower class of the city of Ankh-Morpork, including the in-depth development of four new characters. In fact, they’re part of the hierarchical Downstairs to Unseen University’s hierarchical Upstairs, something we’ve never seen much before.
If the wizards and the Downstairs are melody and counter-melody, then the last third is the harmony—and pure heavy Pratchett. The harmony of Unseen Academicals is discrimination.
This is not the first time Pratchett has riffed on the theme. Whether it’s the sexism in Equal Rites and Monstrous Regiment, the species-ism of humans versus dwarves versus trolls versus undead, or the racism – both overt and unconscious – in Jingo, satirizing these has always been part of the Pratchett profile. Unseen Academicals adds classism – both external and internal – but also again plays with species-ism. Except this time, the species-ism is fantastical racism that cuts close enough to real racism to bleed.
Poor Mister Nutt, whose species is the victim of this. Unlike the other species on the Discworld, he’s truly a minority: there’s just one of him in Ankh-Morpork. Unlike other species, his kind is still strongly discriminated against, to the point where he’s thought of as not just sub-human, but sub-sentient: an unthinking primitive, a fierce and scary being reputed to have warred against “good species” out of evilness, even accused of being cannibals. This is a much closer picture of the undercurrents of racism in the real world than Pratchett’s presented before, and he brings these often submerged attitudes to the surface.
Also before, you knew that the discrimination against trolls, dwarves, undead, women, whomever, was wrong, because the protagonists knew it was wrong, or eventually knew it was wrong (witness Vimes’ long-term discrimination against vampires). This included the perspectives of the discriminated, who always had a large measure of having accepted themselves, also how you knew discriminating against them was wrong.
Unfortunately, Mister Nutt learned to hate his race. This is an often ignored part of real racism, but the ‘whip in the head’ is common amongst members of minorities. If your race is implicitly, not to mention overtly, put down for all your life, this thinking is sometimes the result. No one counters the ingrained ideas that your race is worth less than the dominant race, but instead said, ‘You will be polite and, most of all, you will never raise your hand in anger to anyone’. Other phrases that pop up in Nutt’s head are as painful, and worse – they echo what I’ve heard inside my own.
Even the moral compasses of characters we’ve loved are less than reliable. Or are they reliable? For even Ponder thinks of Nutt’s race as ‘grey demons from a grey hell’. Ponder. Ridcully is afraid of Nutt. Lady Margolotta put the whips in Nutt’s head, even though she rescued him and taught him to read. The former Dean calls the children of Nutt’s race ‘pups’ to put down. Nobody bothers to negotiate with them, because while they’re hard to kill, people view that as something to overcome rather than to be diplomatic (once again, unlike trolls, dwarves, or undead).
Perhaps most telling, the most painfully clueless racists (and also, as it turns out, sexists) in the story tend to be the well-educated. It’s Downstairs, not Upstairs, that accepts Mister Nutt, because they don’t know this accepted racist history. When they do find out, they can’t match it up against the Nutt they know, and after working through serious qualms, they don’t discriminate against him. Of course, not all of them are like this, but the new main characters are. Their attitude towards him just about manages to balance out the reader’s opinion of Nutt’s race, until the reversal at the end.
There is one familiar moral compass that seems to be set right… the Patrician’s. We’ve always seen him as gray because he’s a ruthless Machiavellian who nevertheless knows how to run a city. His cold response to the former Dean’s ‘putting down pups’ is simply, ‘murdering their children’. Unfortunately, the Dean is so internally racist that he ignores what the Patrician, the most feared man in the city, just said. Real life again.
(More Vetinari: you see what he’s like when he’s drunk, and learn about his experiences as a youth vacationing from Ankh-Morpork in Überwald. It’s… disturbing.)
Yes, there is a happy ending, and that ending involves football.
Unseen Academicals is a solid entry in the Discworld series. Pratchett is a social satirist at heart, even if he puts werewolves and the occasional dragon in, and there are few better. Arachne Jericho, on Tor.com
In Unseen Academicals, Terry Pratchett sets his satirical sights on football, as the wizards of Unseen University realise they must raise a team and win a match to meet the terms of a bequest. Failure to comply would mean a hole in university funding and the loss of the treasured cheeseboard. Oh, and they’re not allowed to use magic to help them on their way to victory, which makes things a little bit trickier.
The novel takes us below stairs at the university for the first time, introducing two scullery maids who are involved both in the scrum-like weekly football matches (in which hooliganism is part of the game) and in the burgeoning Dwarf fashion industry. The aptly named Juliet embarks on an across-the-tracks romance with a supporter of a rival team, although her Romeo’s name is Trev. Dwarf-Troll relations are improving following the events of Thud! Then there is the mysterious Nutt, a goblin from the Transylvania-esque Überwald with a sponge-like aptitude for learning and a Kaspar Hauser childhood behind him.
PE teachers, sport scholarships and the daft traditions of venerable institutions all come under Pratchett’s gentle fire. It’s a treat to see Archchancellor Ridcully and the wizards (rather than just Rincewind, who only has a cameo here) given a rare central role.
The 37th Discworld novel arrives after an unusually long gap of two years. But, if the output has slowed, the quality, inventiveness and laughs remain as constant as ever.
Owen Williams, Waterstone’s St Andrews, in Waterstones’ Books Quarterly, 34.
Affliction is invisible as gags go on
While Iris Murdoch’s last novel is studied for what it reveals about the effects of Alzheimer’s, no such diagnosis could ever be drawn from this latest rollicking fantasy by Sir Terry Pratchett, who bravely outed himself last year as suffering from the early stages of this dread illness. His writing remains as spry as ever, with the humour coming thick and fast in every paragraph. This hectic rate of waggery can only succeed if the jokes are really good, and once again they are. Satire, parody and inspired wordplay all jostle for space as Pratchett casts his keen comic eye on the Unseen University of Ankh-Morpork, inhabited by ancient wizards straight out of an amalgam of Gormenghast and Tom Sharpe’s version of Cambridge.
Unseen Academicals is Pratchett’s 37th novel in his Discworld series, and all the old favourites make an appearance. The university librarian, turned by mistake into an orang-utan, cowardly Wizzard Rincewind with his shaky spelling, assorted trolls, dwarfs and even Death himself all play their part, along with equally entertaining human characters. There is Juliet, a dumb kitchen assistant destined for a career as a supermodel, Glenda, a compulsive organiser with a kindly heart, and enigmatic Nutt, a highly educated goblin about whom little is known, even by the character himself.
As before, this crew is presided over by the kindly Lord Vetinari, who insists that the university wizards must play one game of foot-the-ball in order to retain their ancient privileges. This brand of the sport is little more than a vicious form of street fighting, dividing the town into hostile camps. But when Trevor Likely, from one side, falls for Juliet on the other, there is never any doubt that they will finally get together.
Greater claims can be made for Pratchett’s work other than that it is unfailingly good fun. Magic realism does not have to be solemn. In his hands, it comes over as a sharply satirical take on many current realities from an author seemingly incapable of penning a bad joke. Nicholas Tucker, in The Independent
IN THE past 26 years there have been 37 Discworld novels. Sir Terry Pratchett has recently eased up on his productivity, now aiming to publish just one a year. Like most Discworld novels in recent years, this one has gone straight into the bestseller lists in the UK and elsewhere; even in the US, where Pratchett’s humour took a long time to catch on, Unseen Academicals is already a bestseller. There were 15 Pratchetts in the top 200 novels in the 2003 BBC survey, the Big Read, a higher number than was achieved by any other author.
Hardcore Pratchett fans have organised Discworld conventions in the UK every two years since 1996; Australian fans are busy organising their third Discworld convention, Nullus Anxietas (shouldn’t that be Nullae Anxietates?); this summer the first US Discworld convention was held; the first Irish one is in November (see www.idwcon.org).
Those who have not read a Discworld book, presuming there are such, must be puzzled by Pratchett’s extreme popularity.
It is not easy to explain. There is the humour, of course – word play, parody, comic excess, satire – much of it arising from making his fantasy world a distorting mirror of our own. There is the serious moral core, common to all good satire. And there is the fascination in watching Pratchett’s slow world building, as we gradually get to know Discworld and its inhabitants.
The best-known corner of Discworld is the disreputable city of Ankh-Morpork. Under the benevolent despotism of the Patrician, Lord Vetinari, whose bedtime reading has clearly been the Discworld equivalent of Machiavelli’s The Prince , the city has moved in one generation from something resembling the Florence of the Medicis to something more akin to the London of Dickens or Gissing.
Some recent novels set in Ankh-Morpork have described the introduction of the newspaper (The Truth), the postage stamp (Going Postal) and banking (Making Money). Now, Lord Vetinari has decided that the best way to curb, or at least direct, the city’s latent violence is to introduce rules to the ancient brutal game of football.
The familiar wizards of Unseen University are forced to form their own team, Unseen Academicals; to their annoyance the new rules include one banning the use of magic.
As so often in Pratchett’s work, the real interest comes not in the surface satire, nor in the comic set-piece description of the football match that ends the novel (you think it’s all over?).
Ankh-Morpork’s City Watch has become familiar with the problems of racial tension following Lord Vetinari’s decision that gave jobs to dwarves, trolls, werewolves, vampires and others. But now the Unseen University is employing someone who may be the last surviving member of a race notorious for savagery: orcs.
He is Mr Nutt, a candle-dribbler by trade, but a ferociously competent person in anything he undertakes – including coaching a football team. With the help of Glenda Sugarbean (one of the best of Pratchett’s female characters), he wins through, conquering his natural impulse to mayhem; and another thoroughly satisfying Discworld novel is indeed over.
Edward James, in The Irish Times
….Pratchett manages to wrap up his many plot threads – including the true nature and abilities of that ‘goblin’ – with the lovely combination of sneakiness and sass that keeps us coming back to the Discworld again and again. Faren Miller in Locus
Well-known satirist Terry Pratchett is back with his latest novel, Unseen Academicals, the 37th in his long running Discworld series. So far he’s covered everything and anything from anthropomorphic personifications to ‘zer children of ze night’. Now he has turned his attention to fottball, although not as we know it.
Ankh-Morpork’s foot-the-ball knows no stadiums. It exists wildly, in the streets. It is the game in its raw, unruly, down in the gutter, kick-it-if-it-moves form. The wizards at Unseen University are getting a team together, and with the Patrician taking an interest the stage is set, not just for the return of some old favourites like Rincewind and Vimes, but also some new additions to the cast. Pratchett delves below stairs at U.U. to bring us Glenda, the Night Kitchen cook, whose best friend and assistant Juliet, could be the world’s greatest supermodel . . . with a beard. Trevor Likely’s dad was Ankh-Morpork’s greatest footballer until some Dollies players got him in the melee. So Trev’s not playing football – he’s promised his Mum. And as for Mr Nutt, no-one’s really sure who he is, not even Mr Nutt.
Pratchett uses charm, humour and a rich descriptive style to deliver the strong characterisations we have come to expect from him. In Mr Nutt especially, he has created an anti-hero whose struggles to overcome his origin and his desperation to assimilate into society will engage any reader. His air of mystery and extreme vulnerability, masked by his amiable, ready to help persona makes him one of the most interesting and complex characters Pratchett has yet created. This is a book about football and yet not about football. The sport is merely a means through which Pratchett explores the ideas of community, family and identity. Do these things provide our niche in society or just a blanket that smothers?
This newest Discword instalment sees Pratchett remaining head and shoulders above his contemporaries. His writing has lost none of its inventiveness or humour in the past twenty-six years. If you’ve never read a Discworld novel before, go on. I dare you not to laugh. Joanne Nolan in…..
Background illustration © and by courtesy of Paul Kidby