Book Review: Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

Harper Collins
400 pp

Unseen Academicals (Discworld)This Discworld novel is about football (but as is often the case with a Discworld novel), not just about football. Vetinari, the Patrician (and best Tyrant EVER) of Ankh-Morpork has decided to revive the tradition of the Unseen University fronting a football team composed of staff, faculty and students. Oh and, he would also like the game altered so as to cause fewer riots, brutal deaths, and maiming. (The reason why he wants this has to do with an urn revealing that the game was originally held in honor of a goddess–and the winning team usually strangled the losing team. Pies are also involved, so basically, the game is about Ritual Sacrifice, With Pie.)

The problem of course is that A) wizards are generally not notable for their ability to work as a team. B) Wizards are also not generally notable for being athletic and C) one of the stipulations is that the wizards aren’t allowed to use magic, which would probably be the only way they could possibly win given points A) and B).

Since Vetinari’s requests are generally not something even a wizard can refuse, Ridcully has to organize a team, learn the rules of the game and try to figure out what the point is behind the game. Help comes from an unusual quarter in the form of a mysterious individual with an equally mysterious and unpleasant past named Mr. Nutt who is a polymath (currently working at the University as a candle dribbler). Other helpful persons include the cook in charge of the university’s Night Kitchen, the son of a famous and extremely deceased football player (who technically is in charge of the candle vats though Mr. Nutt does most of the work) and Ponder Stibbons who is suffering from the wizardly tradition of “pass the buck.” Plot B meanwhile, involved Mr. Nutt and the reason why almost everyone seems to want him dead. (The reason is related to why he’s one of the very last of his kind.) Plot C (which I think should have been its own book) involved a human being a fashion model for dwarven “micromail.”

All of these elements come together with various parody references to Cyrano de Bergerac, romance novels and fantasy tropes in the usual Pratchett style. There were a lot of cameos from a lot of the other storylines, such as Vimes, and Rincewind. While I liked the book, I felt the cameos and various plot threads made it a little too busy and rushed for four hundred pages. (Again, I felt that plot C should have been its own book.)

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Filed under book, fantasy, humor, non-earth, Review: Book, Terry Pratchett

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