Title: Unseen Academicals
Author: Terry Pratchett
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Release Date: October 6, 2009
In the latest installment of the books set within the realm of the Discworld, Terry Pratchett takes on a topic that many of his fellow Englishmen, and possibly Englishwomen, hold in a special place in their hearts. For years and years, it has sparked controversy and debate, and it is something that every single person on this planet has their own opinion on: football (or soccer if you live in the U.S.). Following the inherent and quirky logic of the Discworld universe, Pratchett creates a version of football that parodies the sport in the real world while tackling the issues of worth, identity, and fashion on the way.
The story begins with the simultaneous discovery of a strange artifact within Ankh-Morpork’s Royal Art Museum and an old tradition deep within the archives of the Unseen University, Ankh-Morpork’s institution of higher magical education, which states that the wizards of the university must continue the tradition of playing the game of “foot-the-ball,” which has been banned in the city by the Patrician due to the grievous bodily harms it causes, or risk losing a considerable amount of income, which worries these old and well-fed wizards as they stand to lose a majority of their food bill.
Meanwhile, deep within the bowels of the University, the son of a famous football player, Trev Likely, is smitten by a certain Juliet Stollop, a girl whose intelligence does not have the same caliber as her natural beauty, who in turn is being guarded by a Glenda Sugarbean, a baker of pies and a night cook in the University, all of whom are entangled within the University’s decision to give the game a try, and the chaos that follows. Lastly, a little goblin-like creature named Mr. Nutt, an employee of the University as a candle dribbler and a very, very smart person, fills in the role of a certain fantasy race that hasn’t been touched on before.
Much like his novels that star the ex-swindler Moist von Lipwig and the reporter William de Worde, Pratchett takes a idea from the real world and twists to fit in the Discworld universe, leaving it slightly similar but not quite the same. In the past, he’s taken the idea of the printing press, the postal system, and currency with much humor and success, but this time, using the internalized logic and rules of the universe he’s created, Pratchett creates a form of football that encompasses the entirety of the culture, including the symbiotic relationship between the crowd and the individual, the logic behind the rivalry between teams, and the idea behind the fact that the game is just a small part of the world that is football. Pratchett also does the same thing with the idea of fashion, ironically placing it in the hands of dwarves, who, instead of fabric, have their models strut around in chain mail… and beards (even female dwarves have beards in this universe). All in all, the way Pratchett has managed to fit it all in the Discworld universe is brilliant and effective, with several well-placed gags along the way.
As an avid fan of the series, and of the author himself, I can safely say that this is one really good read: the dialogue and narrative is spiked with Pratchett’s own brand of wit, humor, and critical thinking that have the capacity to leave readers with both a hearty laugh and some serious thoughts, while the characters, both old and new, are either well-developed, or certainly go through some more development — especially a certain wizard named Ridcully, who has to make amends with a friend, and Ponder Stibbons, who certainly seems to have grown up since the last novels. A solid read, one that I recommend to fans of Pratchett, both old and new.
Rating: 4 / 5 Stars