Review: Unseen Academicals

Who's up for a game of football (of the soccer variety)? Most definitely not the wizards at Unseen University, it would interfere with their nine meals a day. Unfortunately, if they don't play they'll have to cut back to three (!) meals a day. Oh, they could keep the cheeseboard, but only with a choice of three cheeses. "Three cheese isn't a choice, it's a penance!" Nothing gets a wizard to the pitch like his stomach and thus the foot-the-ball team Unseen Academicals is born, and with it the latest novel by Terry Pratchett. Unseen Academicals has all of the humour and cleverness I expect in a Pratchett story and I devoured it whole.

Rated: 4 / 5

Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett is the story of a football game (soccer to some North American types), but not just any football game. One team is manned by the wizards of Unseen University (UU). This ain't Harry Potter, and these wizards will play football when vampires are on the police force, metai-working dwarves make fashionable mini-skirts, and goblins are content making candles! Opps, this is Discworld and all those things are true, but that's not why the wizards are playing. Seems if they don't play they'll lose 87.4% of their food budget, limiting them to three meals a day and a cheeseboard. Which way to the football pitch?

Set at Unseen University (UU) in Ankh-Morpork, we get reacquainted with Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully, Ponder Stibbons, and some of the other wizard types. There's even a cameo by Rincewind's sapient pearwood chest. If these names mean nothing to you, don't worry. You'll know them well enough by the end of the book. The story's central characters are new to the Discworld canon and part of the "down stairs" servant class at UU: the intellectual goblin Mr. Nutt, the slacker Trevor Likely, the cook Glenda Sugarbean, and the kitchen help/beauty Juliet Stollop.

The core of the story belong's to Mr Nutt and his quest of self-discovery, while in the background the wizards of UU try to reinvent football into a game that won't kill them. And dwarves break-in to the world of high fashion with micro-mail, but I digress. Mr Nutt is the first goblin to live in Ankh-Morpork and his race doesn't have the best reputation for letting people live. He's trying to be at his best. Really, really trying.

In the finest tradition of Discworld Pratchett gives us an enjoyable story with underlying social truths. This is a story of tribes, belonging, and friendships. Those we are born into, those we choose, and those that choose us. It's also a story about choices. Each character is on a journey that both contrasts and compliments the main story line. It's wonderful. But don't worry, you'll only notice that serious stuff if you want to.

As with the other Discworld novels, you don't need to read previous novels to enjoy this one. However, the story will be a richer experience if you have. Unseen Academicals was an overall fun read with one or two brilliant moments. It didn't bump any of my current top five series favourites but I enjoyed it thoroughly.

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