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Book Review: Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

# Genre: Comic Fantasy, Fantasy, Satire
# Hardcover: 400 pages
# Publisher: Harper
# Publication Date: October 6, 2009
# ISBN-10: 0061161705
# ISBN-13: 978-0061161704
# Author Website: Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett continues his pattern of taking something from the real world, twisting it to fit in the Discworld universe, and adding bits of wry British humor in Unseen Academicals.

This time, the subject in question is football (soccer to Americans). In this case, Ponder Stibbons, the only responsible academic at Unseen University (though even that is debatable) discovers that the faculty, in order to keep a certain flow of cash coming from a bequest, must compete in a football game every year. If they do not for a tem longer than twenty years, they lose the bequest. Of course, it has now been twenty years since Unseen University fielded a team, and the game of football has devolved into a mix of ultimate fighting and cricket that only the lower class play.

Meanwhile, in the night kitchen of Unseen University, a foursome of individuals (an intelligent goblin, the son of a successful football player, a gorgeous maid, and a rotund cook) find themselves caught up in the worlds of fashion and football to hilarious results.

The story primarily focuses on the goblin and his need to fit in. This is a theme that Pratchett visits often in his Discworld novel. The idea of race, community, and human nature is a predominant theme in his work. It is no different here. Nutt the goblin must make his mark in the world as the first goblin to live in Anhk-Morpork, just as the dwarves and trolls before him.

Though there are many laughs to be found in this novel, it does not quite live up to the standard set in previous novels by Pratchett. Though there is certainly a lot of clever wordplay, many of the jokes seem like they are one-offs, here and gone again, where previously Pratchett could be relied upon to have a strange connection between all his humor that made the story flow all the more smoothly.

Unseen Academicals is a bit choppier than usual. As Len Goodman of Dancing with the Stars might say, it lacked “elegance and grace”. Bits and pieces of the dance of words were wonderful to behold, but the entire work just didn’t have “star quality”. Sure, it was funny, sure it was Pratchett all the way in theme and structure, but the story just lacked cohesiveness. There are really three separate stories here that come together okay at the end, but don’t have quite the sizzle one expects in a Pratchett climax.

I do think this is a fun novel, and Discworld fans will of course buy it in droves, but new readers to Discworld should know that this is not Pratchett at his best. Read Men at Arms or Small Gods to get a sense of how great Pratchett can be. Still, I wouldn’t avoid the novel, and to be sure many less critical readers (this is not a judgment, merely an observation) will enjoy the slapstick comedy, clever wordplay, satirical discussion of many of the elements of football and organized sports. I do recommend Unseen Academicals as a good read when you need a pick me up.