Unseen Academicals: Comfort food

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Terry Pratchett Discworld Unseen AcademicalsUnseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

Many Terry Pratchett fans will tell you that his DISCWORLD novels are really social satire masquerading as fantasy. With the more recent installments, this has become even more apparent, as they have often taken on a very specific subject or theme. The Truth: Terry Pratchett about journalism. Making Money: banking. Going Postal: well… the postal service. The most recent addition to the series, Unseen Academicals, is another example of this, as it takes on sports, with a minor focus on the fashion industry.

In Ankh-Morpork, the slightly grubby and always fascinating metropolis that’s the setting for many DISCWORLD novels, the ancient sport of foot-the-ball is not just the main entertainment of the working classes, it’s practically a way of life. Every neighborhood has its own team, rivalries are long-lived and vicious, and wearing your team’s colors is practically a must for safe passage through certain areas. The sport combines aspects of current-day soccer (or football, for our non-US readers) with rugby and, well, more or less full-scale warfare, and is such a big deal to Ankh-Morporkians that it’s almost incomprehensible that we haven’t heard much about it in earlier books in the series.

Meanwhile in Unseen University, the city’s main college of magic, Ponder Stibbons (the most organized and bright wizard of the bunch) has added yet another task to his already huge agenda: he has become the Master of the Traditions, making sure the eternally squabbling group of wizards, between their nine square meals a day and their non-existent lectures, stay in touch with the illustrious history and rituals of their institution. Stibbons discovers that a good part of the university’s endowment depends on an ancient donator’s requirement: the faculty must field a foot-the-ball team. It suddenly becomes vitally important for the wizards to learn and play the game, because if not, roughly 84% of their food budget may be cut…

A separate story, which in the best Terry Pratchett fashion eventually links up with the main plot, focuses on two young women working in the University’s Night Kitchen. Glenda, who runs the kitchen, keeps a watchful eye over her friend Juliet, a gorgeous but slightly empty-headed girl who is fascinated with fashion. Juliet becomes, more or less by accident, Ankh-Morpork’s first supermodel, while Glenda slowly discovers more about one of the University’s professional candle dribblers, Mr. Nutt, who is a mysterious and extremely intelligent… goblin?

Unseen Academicals is a decent addition to the DISCWORLD series. On the plus side, I definitely enjoyed the focus on the Unseen University wizards, as well as my favorite overall character of the series, Havelock Vetinari, the benevolent dictator of Ankh-Morpork. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments when the wizards are center stage, and lots of incisive snarkiness from the Patrician. Mr. Nutt is a fascinating character and probably the best part of this novel — and I hope we’ll encounter him in the future. On the negative side, plot-wise this is one of the weaker books in the series. Especially the fashion sub-plot is very thin, and its connection with the main story just didn’t work for me.

After more than 35 novels in the series, reading a new DISCWORLD novel feels like visiting an old friend. It’s pleasantly familiar, meets certain expectations, and doesn’t pose any challenges. It’s the literary equivalent of comfort food. Because of this, Unseen Academicals will probably please many fans, but as much as it pains me to say it, I’d consider it one of the weaker novels in an otherwise excellent series, and definitely a far cry from the brilliance of some of the earlier DISCWORLD books.

Discworld — (1983-2015) Discworld is a satirical fantasy world created by Terry Pratchett to poke fun at 1980s fantasy novels. Since then, they’ve evolved so that they now make fun of everything. Mr. Pratchett explains Discworld: “The world rides through space on the back of a turtle. This is one of the great ancient world myths, found wherever men and turtles are gathered together; the four elephants were an indo-European sophistication. The idea has been lying in the lumber room of legend for centuries. All I had to do was grab it and run away before the alarms went off… There are no maps. You can’t map a sense of humor. Anyway, what is a fantasy map but a space beyond which There Be Dragons? On the Discworld we know There Be Dragons Everywhere. They might not all have scales and forked tongues, but they Be Here all right, grinning and jostling and trying to sell you souvenirs.” The Discworld novels are presented here in publication order. To read more about the Discworld “arcs” and reading order, see this Wikipedia article.

Terry Pratchett Discworld: 1. The Color of Magic 2. The Light Fantastic 3. Equal Rites 4. Mort 5. Sourcery 6. Wyrd Sisters 7. Pyramids 8. Guards Guards! 9. EricTerry Pratchett Discworld: 1. The Color of Magic 2. The Light Fantastic 3. Equal Rites 4. Mort 5. Sourcery 6. Wyrd Sisters 7. Pyramids 8. Guards Guards! 9. EricTerry Pratchett Discworld: 1. The Color of Magic 2. The Light Fantastic 3. Equal Rites 4. Mort 5. Sourcery 6. Wyrd Sisters 7. Pyramids 8. Guards Guards! 9. EricTerry Pratchett Discworld: 1. The Color of Magic 2. The Light Fantastic 3. Equal Rites 4. Mort 5. Sourcery 6. Wyrd Sisters 7. Pyramids 8. Guards Guards! 9. EricTerry Pratchett Discworld: 1. The Color of Magic 2. The Light Fantastic 3. Equal Rites 4. Mort 5. Sourcery 6. Wyrd Sisters 7. Pyramids 8. Guards Guards! 9. EricTerry Pratchett Discworld: 1. The Color of Magic 2. The Light Fantastic 3. Equal Rites 4. Mort 5. Sourcery 6. Wyrd Sisters 7. Pyramids 8. Guards Guards! 9. EricTerry Pratchett Discworld: 1. The Color of Magic 2. The Light Fantastic 3. Equal Rites 4. Mort 5. Sourcery 6. Wyrd Sisters 7. Pyramids 8. Guards Guards! 9. EricTerry Pratchett Discworld: 1. The Color of Magic 2. The Light Fantastic 3. Equal Rites 4. Mort 5. Sourcery 6. Wyrd Sisters 7. Pyramids 8. Guards Guards! 9. EricTerry Pratchett Discworld: 1. The Color of Magic 2. The Light Fantastic 3. Equal Rites 4. Mort 5. Sourcery 6. Wyrd Sisters 7. Pyramids 8. Guards Guards! 9. Ericbook review Terry Pratchett Discworld Moving PicturesReaper Manbook review Terry Pratchett Discworld Witches Abroadbook review Terry Pratchett Discworld Small Godsfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Terry Pratchett Discworld Men at Armsbook review Terry Pratchett Discworld Soul Musicfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Terry Pratchett Discworld Maskeradebook review Terry Pratchett Discworld Feet of Claybook review Terry Pratchett Discworld Hog FatherJingobook review Terry Pratchett Discworld The Last Continentbook review Terry Pratchett Discworld Carpe Jugulumbook review Terry Pratchett Discworld Carpe Jugulum, The Fifth Elephantbook review Terry Pratchett Discworld The Truthbook review Terry Pratchett Discworld Thief of Timebook review Terry Pratchett Discworld The Last Herofantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Terry Pratchett Discworld Thud!book review Terry Pratchett Discworld Making MoneyTerry Pratchett Unseen Academicals DiscworldTerry Pratchett Unseen Academicals Discworld, Snufffantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews

Discworld for Kids:

book review Terry Pratchett Discworld Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodentsbook review Terry Pratchett Discworld THe Wee Free Menbook review Terry Pratchett Discworld A Hat Full of Skybook review Terry Pratchett Discworld Wintersmith I Shall Wear Midnightbook review Terry Pratchett Discworld Wintersmith I Shall Wear MidnightThe Shepherd's Crown: Number 41 of the Discworld Novels Series


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STEFAN RAETS (on FanLit's staff August 2009 — February 2012) reads and reviews science fiction and fantasy whenever he isn’t distracted by less important things like eating and sleeping. In February 2012, he retired from FanLit to focus on his blog Far Beyond Reality.

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One comment

  1. Excellent review Stefan! I’d like to see Mr. Nutt in a future novel as well. While I agree this isn’t one of the deeper DISCWORLD novels, I thought it was enjoyable. It’s one of the first I read, and so far the only one I’ve been able to listen to as an audio book. I need to see if I still have the CD’s around some where…

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