For his next book, Terry Pratchett has chosen the subject of football. For people from the United States, we are talking about the sport that is played with feet and involves a round ball. For various reasons, the Unseen University has to take over a street game of Ankh Morpork, the story is centered around four characters working at the University, but the recurring characters of the city are also present: the mages, the Patrician, and Vimes.
The book was a good read, I had a real pleasure to read it, it felt like a hot cup of chocolate in Winter. The style is funny (I loved Ankh Morpork‘s anthem) and typical of Pratchett, maybe to much. At times, I had the feeling that the book was not written by Pratchett (this is technically true, according to the preface, most of the book was typed by Rob Wilkins), but by someone trying very hard to write the ultimate Pratchett book: it is too polished and there is actually nearly nothing new in it. The book follows the standard pattern: it starts with some random semi-magic event, this starts a crisis where the normal characters are engulfed, and things get larger and larger until we reach the point where the city could be destroyed, and ends with a big deus ex machina (literally in this case).
When dragons belch and hippos flee
My thoughts, Ankh-Morpork, are of thee
Let others boast of martial dash
For we have boldly fought with cash
We own all your helmets, we own all your shoes
We own all your generals – touch us and you’ll lose.
Morporkia owns the day!
We can rule you wholesale
Touch us and you’ll pay.
We bankrupt all invaders, we sell them souvenirs
We ner ner ner ner ner, hner ner hner by the ears
Er hner we ner ner ner ner ner
Ner ner her ner ner ner hner the ner
Er ner ner hner ner, nher hner ner ner (etc.)
Ner hner ner, your gleaming swords
We mortgaged to the hilt
Hner ner ner ner ner ner
We can rule you wholesale
Credit where it’s due.
While the book is nice and warm while reading, it owes a lot to the fact that there is not much new. There is a least one scene I remember reading in a previous book: some character leaves the city in a carriage and changes his mind during the ride. The two sisters are recurring of the two girls from Maskerade, the pretty one and the smart competent one in the background. The pretty one is called Juliet and falls in love with a guy from another supporter gang, but strangely, the Romeo & Juliet allusion is not really used in the second half of the book. I suspect the books shows that Pratchet is really getting old, his style is really smooth, but he has the symptoms of old age: he tells the same stories with basically the same characters, nothing really bad happens, and character traits are associated to lineage. I found the last item the most annoying, Glenda cannot just be a good cook by herself, she comes from a dynasty of good cooks. Same goes for the protagonist, but not Juliet. I would not mind it so much if there was something deeper about the subject, but there isn’t.
In conclusion I nice book to read in your bed on a winter night, but nothing ground breaking.
Unseen Academicals Terry Pratchett, Doubleday ISBN 978-0-385-60934-0