Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett
book, review, discworld
This review was originally posted at Goodreads and imported here later with next to no spell/grammar checking.
I wasn’t expecting much from this one. It’s branded as a Wizards subseries and I honestly didn’t feel like reading another one of those. Turns out, the main characters are all brand new and much more interesting.
The book revolves about a game of football that the people play in the streets. A chaotic and violent affair unfit for the practitioners of the finest magic and residents of the most prestigious of universities. And yet, the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork demands that they devise a more civilised set of rules and play the game.
The actual protagonists are all members of the University’s staff — two cooks and two candle dribblers. There’s mystery, personal identity, love, fashion and old promises that need to be kept.
I really liked the characters and the individual scenes and ideas, but it doesn’t hold together to form a strong whole. It’s less of a plot and more events that happen to occur around the same time and place.
As an example, there’s a really deep mystery there - a character discovering they’re not human, but a different ancient mysterious race. The wizards know this, so does the Patrician and the character’s past ward. Everyone’s observing this person keenly to see if their "true nature" shows up and causes all kinds of trouble. But when the revelation comes, I was left scratching my head. I thought: well is it a werewolf? Vampire? A really powerful mage? But no, those books have all been written already. Instead, it’s a race not mentioned in the series before and one that did not sound particularly frightening.
So then the book had to spend a lot of effort to explain that no, this really is bad news, but it just never felt that way to me as a reader. It just didn’t flow.
And that’s a real shame. Discworld often is a mishmash of characters and events, they generally form a strong plot to which the looser elements connect, building a world that feels like it really could exist. Not here.
Still, the characters are great, the jokes were lovely and I’ve had fun reading it.