Sunday, April 11, 2010

Book review- Unseen Academicals

Warning: There will be more spoilers here than in most of my reviews. I can't help it; I want to talk about the characters! I'll post the spoiler-y bits last, though, so you can just read the beginning if you want. This is also a very long review- sorry about that!

This time around I'm reviewing another Discworld book, this time Unseen Academicals.

Yes, I'm using the UK cover because, ugh, the US got Yet Another Crappy Discworld Cover (I'm thinking this is a requirement at this point and should get an official abbreviation of YACDC). I think that US cover is actually worse than the one for Thud, if that's even possible.

Anyway, on to the review:
I put off reading this book for three months (got it for Christmas), which is rare for me with a Discworld book. I assumed that since it's about sports, I wouldn't like it much (I dislike pretty much every sport so of course I wouldn't want to read about them), so I wasn't in a big hurry to read it, which meant that it got stuck near the bottom of my "to be read" pile. Boy, was that a mistake!

I should have realized that Pratchett never lets you down, and- this is a good point here- has amazing skill at writing characters. From my book reviews you can tell by now that characters are what make a book, in my opinion, and if the characters are wonderful, the plot isn't nearly as important; on the other hand, extreme amounts of action won't make up for poorly written characters. This is the perfect case of characters making up for plot. Yes, the book is about soccer, but it's also mostly about the characters and things that happen to occur around soccer. (And I will say I kept getting confused when I saw the word "football". However, that's less to do about the British/American thing and more to do with the fact that I know absolutely nothing about either sport. The ball has to get to the other side, right?)

The characters... well, they're wonderfully rounded and detailed, just like all the other characters Pratchett has written. You know a character is well-written when you spend a lot of the book thinking "someone like this woman should bug me, but she doesn't". What I mean there is that one of the main female characters, Glenda, tends to be rather bossy and controlling and very strong-willed, but she's written in such a way that you understand why she's that way and know that there's far more to her than that. She even intrigues the Patrician, for pete's sake; that's definitely an interesting character trait right there. There are so many new characters in this book (and some recurring ones, of course), but they're all like this- well-written and interesting. I'm especially attached to Nutt, the main male character who is a hard-working and kind goblin-type. If Pratchett writes another book about him, I certainly won't complain! (I'll blather more about characters below.)

As for the plot, soccer may be involved, but there's also young romance, lots of humor (hey, it's Discworld!), discord between wizards, the city coming to terms with a new race, people striving for more than what they are... Definitely don't make the mistake I did and assume you won't like the book just because of the theme!

Honestly, with the exception of the book starting off a bit slowly, which could have just been my imagination as I was grimacing in preparation for the book being all about sports, or possibly because since there are a lot of new characters, they had to be introduced, I can't think of a single thing I disliked about this book. I certainly don't mind all those new characters because we get to meet so many that are just so cool; by the end of the book I was liking them just as much as the reoccurring characters on the Disc.

I give Unseen Academicals 5 stars out of 5; a very high score, but I think it deserves it. This book has passed Monstrous Regiment (my 3rd favorite DW book) and Pyramids (my 4th) to slip in behind Thief of Time and Soul Music to become my third favorite. As much as I adore Nutt, I think the only book that could surpass one with Susan in it would be another Susan book (but maybe not; I'm afraid that if Pratchett does write another Susan book, he won't do with her what I think he should, which would just be upsetting and disappointing. Hey, I'm a Susan cosplayer who fancies Lobsang. Let me fantasize).

And here be spoilers... and lots of ramblings!
I absolutely adore Nutt, the main male character; as in, adore him so much that he's now ranked with Imp, Lobsang, and Teppic as one of my favorite male Discworld characters. I thought he was pretty neat (he's kind, helpful, extremely intelligent...) to start, but once it becomes known that he's actually an orc rather than a goblin... well, that just sealed the deal for me. I have a (strangely large) spot in my heart for orcs, or at least the ones that are kind, soft-spoken, and misunderstood; I blame Dungeons & Dragons for this since my character's best friend/bodyguard is one of those kinds of orcs. I don't care that orcs are monsters- if someone is kind, I couldn't care less what they look like. ...Actually, this may be why I think Glenda is so cool- she doesn't seem to care, either. I spent the whole book rooting for Nutt to have a happy ending and end up with love, and I can happily say that I wasn't disappointed.

As for the other characters, even Juliet, who is kind of pathetic and dim-witted, I found to be pretty cool, although had she not been constantly around the characters I liked better, that could have been different.

And here's one of the things I liked best about this book; the wizards that I like are back! Albeit mostly in tiny roles, but this is an important point for me, since most of the regular wizards (ie. the old ones) we hear about a lot tend to bug me, but this book has the Librarian, Ponder (okay, almost too much Ponder, but I like him even if he does get kind of annoying after a while), and- what I thought was awesome- Rincewind and Adrian Turnipseed. I'd missed Rincewind (what was the last book he was in? The Last Hero?) and it's been far too long since we've heard about any of the student wizards, so I thought it was cool that Big Mad Drongo made an appearance. Now I'm just curious as to what's become of Tez and Skazz. I don't much like the older wizards, but I do like the younger ones. :)

And as I'm writing this up, it's occurred to me that I really can't make fun of people who have a thing for vampires, can I? I suppose I can at least defend my thing for orcs by saying that appearances don't matter and I only fancy the kind ones (unlike with vampires who are gorgeous but horrible). If you were wondering where some half-orcs come from in D&D, well, I suppose I just answered that riddle, huh? ;)
...and somehow I already had an "orc" tag on my blog. I am one strange little elf-girl, aren't I?


threadsofmagique said...

I shouldn't have read this review, since it's going to cost me money. I've been trying to hold out for the paperback version, but it just sounds too good, especially with Rincewind and the Librarian. How can I pass that up?

Merily said...

From some reviews I've been reading this looks like a hit or miss book, like "Monstrous Regiment"- either people love it or they hate it. Honestly, I like this one a LOT better than the more recent Tiffany or Post Office books.

Rincewind and the Librarian have very small roles in this book, but they're *there* which makes me happy. :)

Merily said...

"Than the recent" I mean, not "more recent".

Estelendur said...

If you like orcs, boy have I got a trilogy for you (provided you don't mind some hard-R sex scenes). It's call Queen of the Orcs, and it's by Morgan Howell. A girl is enslaved to serve the orc mercenaries in the human king's army, and befriends one of them, and, well... read the books. ;P

Merily said...

Should I even ask how you came across those books, Esty? ;) I'm not one for major sex scenes, though, so I'm not sure if I'd want to read it, as much as I love orcs.

Merily said...

Actually, after reading the description, I do really want to read it! Not yet, though; I can only handle silly or harmless (and tame) books right now.

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