A new Terry Pratchett Discworld title is always a nice treat. Especially now that the author is battling with early-onset Alzheimer's disease, his legions of fans are aware that there might not be that many more installments to come.
With Pratchett's tackling his country's passionate love affair with football (or soccer, if like me you live on the other side of the Atlantic), I believed that Unseen Academicals had the potential of being another terrific addition to the Discworld sequence. With his trademark witty humor and intelligent narrative, I felt that this would be another winner. And yet, sadly, Unseen Academical was, for me at least, one massive failure to launch.
Here's the blurb:
Football has come to the ancient city of Ankh-Morpork - not the old fashioned, grubby pushing and shoving, but the new, fast football with pointy hats for goalposts and balls that go going when you drop them. And now, the wizards of Unseen University must win a football match, without using magic, so they're in the mood for trying everything else. The prospect of the Big Match draws in a street urchin with a wonderful talent for kicking a tin can, a maker of jolly good pies, a dim but beautiful young woman, who might just turn out to be the greatest fashion model there has ever been, and the mysterious Mr Nutt (and no one knows anything much about Mr Nutt, not even Mr Nutt, which worries him, too). As the match approaches, four lives are entangled and changed for ever. Because the thing about football - the important thing about football - is that it is not just about football. Here we go! Here we go! Here we go!
The main problem was that Pratchett is all over the place with this one. And as a result, the novel fails to form a cohesive whole. The chuckles and the laughs are there, don't worry. But the various storylines don't come together very well. And for the first time in my life, portions of a Terry Pratchett book bored me out of my mind. I simply could not get into Unseen Academicals.
Some of the plotlines are hilarious, true. Everything that had to do with the Unseen University was a lot of fun to read. Alas, all the scenes regarding Juliet's burgeoning modelling career were on the lame side. The same could be said of the relationship between Mr. Nutt and Glenda the Night Kitchen cook. Mr. Nutt was an interesting character in his own right until the truth about his identity is revealed. Overall, these disparate storylines make for an uneven read.
At times it feels as though Pratchett lacked enough material for a complete novel, so he was forced to pad the plot with filler material. Given the fact that I was expecting another brilliant Pratchett offering, Unseen Academicals sometimes felt a bit uninspired.
Nonetheless, this novel will likely please some of the author's less demanding fans or those looking for light fantasy fare, but I doubt it will help win him new ones. If you have yet to sample Pratchett's comical and intelligent style, Unseen Academicals is not a good place to start.
Here's to hoping that the next Discworld book will be a return to form. . .