Tuesday 14 May 2013

Unseen Academicals

I'm waaaaay behind on reviews, three books in fact. No way am I going to be able to do long reviews of all of those so what's going to happen is that I'll talk a little about Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett and give a brief mention of the other two.

Nutt is a candle dribbler, one of the lowest of the low employed in the Unseen University in Ankh Morpork on the Discworld. But he has friends, Trev, a bit of a wide-boy but with a good heart, and Glenda who runs the night kitchen in the university. Employed under Glenda, but also a neighbour and best friend is Juliet. Juliet sets male hearts afluttering wherever she goes because she is, quite frankly, stunningly beautiful... but... thick as two short planks. She needs someone like Glenda, quite ordinary and rather sizeable, to keep an eye out for her, just as Trev does for Nutt.

People look at Nutt and feel uneasy. Their subconscious knows what he is but won't recognise the fact. Possibly he's a goblin? Or possibly not. He looks stupid but is in fact erudite, well read, incredibly practical and very sensible. But still he makes them feel uneasy.

Various teams in the city have been playing foot-the-ball for years. There are no rules and games are chaotic and violent. Vetinari, the Patrician, decides it's time for all that to change. New rules will be formulated and a big match will be held between a team from the Unseen University... it takes Glenda to point out that if they put two huge Us on their shirts it'll look like the men have two big boobs... and another.

The job of training the team is given to Professor Ponder Stibbons who is already holding down half a dozen jobs so he delegates the position... to Nutt. Everyome wants to be in the team but can they play? Not really. Nutt has his work cut out but is more than up the job. More difficult is dealing with people's prejudices and the attitudes of the street gangs. Plus, he has to help Trev with his mission of romancing Juliet. Which is more difficult than it sounds because Juliet is about to be discovered...

Well... I've been avoiding this book for several years. Why? Because I knew it was about football. I am the least likely person to want to read anything whatsoever that involves football. I loathe it, quite frankly, to really quite an obsessive extent. And then I suddenly changed my mind... I've no idea why... and borrowed it from my daughter to read for the Once Upon a Time reading challenge. I had a sudden feeling about it, hard to explain, but it turns out I was right.

As always with Terry Pratchett's books, not all is as it seems. Yes, this is a book about football (shudder). The rules - a scene where the off-side rule is explained is particularly funny and as always makes no sense to me whatsoever - the players, the motivations of those involved with the game, the fans... particularly the fans. How can football fans be such a varied bunch? It's a mystery to me and always has been. I've never seen the attraction but it appeals to all sorts, so there you go. So yes, a book about football and those who love it. But of course it has to be a lot more than that. In reality it's about 30% footie, 70% other stuff. Other stuff such as racial prejudice, and the prejudice that exists about where you were born and brought up. Not just from people born outside your class or area but from within it too - how your people will try to keep you in your place even if it's clear you belong somewhere else because you're clever or have a talent, or are just ambitious and want a better life for yourself.

But best of all, for me, and the reason the book kept me rivetted to the end were the characters. I absolutely loved Nutt, his cleverness was genius, not just the character but in the writing of the character. All his philosophising was hilarious and you could picture people's eyes glazing over as they listened. I loved Glenda, identified very strongly with her to be honest, her size, her love of cooking, her outlook on life. As always there was a strong supporting cast... the wizards at the university, Vetinari (a big favourite with me), Sam Vimes popped up and the chap from The Truth, so many of our favourite Discworld characters were there, including the obligatory scene with DEATH. Terry handles all it brilliantly, making the whole thing fun and thoroughly entertaining.

It all goes to show how you should not be put off by what you think you know about a book. Often it turns out to be very different from what you imagine. I should have known that Terry Pratchett never writes bad books. And here's the embarrassing thing. From being a book I avoided like the plague, Unseen Academicals has turned out to be one of my absolute favourite Discworld books, along with Monstrous Regiment and all of the Sam Vimes books.

The other two books that I've not reviewed are Casting Spells by Barbara Bretton and Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch.

Casting Spells was huge fun, combining as it did knitting, crime and fantasy. It's set in a village in Vermont where everyone is a magical being. They have no crime there so no need of a police presence, until one day... a murder is committed. The village is relying on Chloe Hobbs, who owns the local knitting shop, to keep them safe via an old spell. But she is not magical, her father being human, and runs into trouble when the spell protecting the village begins to unravel. The state sends a policeman, Luke McKenzie to investigate the murder. The plot is pretty obvious and all the better for that as this is pure comfort reading and I liked it very much indeed - book one in a series I believe.

Whispers Under Ground is book three in Ben Aaronovitich's 'Rivers of London' series. This one is, as the title suggests, an underground tale of things living in the sewers and how the new magical policeman, Peter Grant, has to deal with the problem. I'm not going into very much detail as spoilers would be involved and that would be a shame. It was a truly excellent yarn, probably the best of the three so far, in my opinion and they were all good. Looking forward to book four, Broken Homes, which is out next month.

So that's it. Three more books for Carl's Once Upon a Time VII challenge, which brings my total to six now. Very happy with that and I will doubtless read a couple more before the closing date of the 21st. June.


Penny O'Neill said...

Terry Patchett always amazes me and I've thought about giving "Unseen Academicals". Your review is so compelling, Nan, I shall look into it soon.

DesLily said...

well that should surely be above and beyond the amount you signed on for! :o) I can sense that you really like Terry Pratchett's books lol It's pretty nice knowing there are many of them when you like the author!

I am half done with book 3 in the trilogy I am reading...then I think i will read some non fantasy for a bit

Cath said...

Penny: Terry Pratchett always amazes me too... he's just *so* clever.

Pat: Yeah, quite pleased with 6. I'm going to read something else now, a non-fiction, but I expect I'll be reading a couple more for OUaT before it ends.

You're doing fantastically. But yeah, comes the time you need a change. LOL.

Penny O'Neill said...

I just realized I called you Nan. oops! Off I go to hide my embarrassed head in the sand.

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Hi Cath,

Having just replied to your own comment on my blog, by saying that I have very eclectic reading tastes and like to mix my genres up when reading, I now have to admit that fantasy books are definitely not amongst my favourites.

In fact they are among the books that I would never choose to purchase for myself and generally read only on occasion when I am asked to review by author or publisher.

Don't get me wrong, I have been surprised by some of the quality fantasy storytelling out there and have enjoyed the books that have made it to my TBR pile. I suppose I just don't have the imagination necessary to make the stories work for me and come alive in quite the way the author perhaps intended.

Sadly therefore, I have never read any Terry Pratchett books, although I have great respect for him as an author and you obviously really enjoy his style of writing.

Your review was very well considered and thoughtful, thanks for sharing.


Cath said...

Penny: Please don't feel embarrassed... I do this kind of thing quite often too. LOL. Plus... it's no insult to be confused with the very wonderful 'Nan'.

Yvonne: Well, I call myself an eclectic reader but there are some genres I don't read too... westerns, modern and explicit horror for instance. So you're not alone.

I don't really think it's down to imagination - I'm sure you have plenty of that! It's just what works for you and what doesn't and we're all different. My husband, for instance, reads loads of science fiction and fantasy but has no idea why I make such a fuss about Terry Pratchett. My daughters understand as they are also fans, but he has read a few, quite liked them, but has no wish to gobble them all up like me. Horses for courses.

Thank you for your kind words about my review and thanks for dropping by. Hope you have a lovely weekend. We're still struggling with a cold type bug which keeps coming back again and again so we're planning a very quiet weekend with books.

Nikki - Notes of Life said...

Ohh, I really need to get a move on with Whispers Under Ground and get it read! I've had it since last July... Must read!

Cheryl @ Tales of the Marvelous said...

I always enjoy Discworld, though I haven't read this particular one. I can't say a sports-focus would make me rush to read it either...but I would expect Pratchett to do something fun!

Cath said...

Nikk-ann: Oh, Whispers Underground is fantastic. You must get to it!

Cheryl: I'm not really into sport at all, though I do watch a bit of athletics in the summer and dabble in Wimbledon. Which is why I avoided UA. What a fool I was... in my opinion it's one of TP's best.