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Unseen Academicals    by Terry Pratchett order for
Unseen Academicals
by Terry Pratchett
Order:  USA  Can
Harper, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

My son, a rabid Discworld fan who snatched Unseen Academicals from my hands and dived in head first, kept muttering 'I don't know where it's going' as he read, and 'I don't know where it went' on turning the last page. And though I agree with him to some extent, that won't stop both of us from reading the book cover to cover at least once more, as the journey through it is - as always with a Terry Pratchett novel - an entertaining and illuminating one.

Much of the story is set in the unhallowed halls of Ankh-Morpork's Unseen University, where Archchancellor Ridcully more or less rules the roost. The university's Night Kitchen is run efficiently by Glenda Sugarbean, assisted by her lovely (but not too bright) friend Juliet. Trevor Likely is head candle dribbler, though his underling, the mysterious Nutt - who's been given sanctuary of a sort ('people want to kill him') and is known to both the Chancellor and the Tyrant himself - does all the work. Nutt was brainwashed in Uberwald to 'Smile at people. Like them. Be helpful. Accumulate worth.'

After Ridcully finds out that the university will lose a big bequest if it doesn't field a football team - and Lord Vetinari tasks him with taming 'the demon foot-the-ball', he sets research and planning in motion to control the rough street game's excesses and give it rules. After some very funny false starts, they work something out, organized by Nutt (a football training and strategy genius). Sadly Trev, a natural with a tin can, promised his Mum (after his football hero father died) never to play. While all this is happening, serendipity launches Juliet on a dwarvish micromail modeling career. All this comes together in the big game that the Unseen Academicals (the university team) seem to be losing. A goddess saves the day.

What is the book all about? It has tons of fun with foot-the-ball, there's the mystery of Nutt's origins to resolve, and the Romeo & Juliet romance takes a sensible new turn with Trev and Juliet. But at heart Unseen Academicals is a paean to tolerance and to kindness, not new themes for this author, but always important ones. As compassionate Glenda says of prejudices, the things people know - 'at the same time everybody knows that what everybody knows is wrong.' Too true, and this is another hilarious, highly recommended treat for Discworld fans.

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