Dates: 20 December 2014 – 3 January 2015
TL,DR: Even the worst of Discworld can still make me smile – but only just!
I was not a huge fan of this book. On the face of it, it should have been a great fit for me – I love watching football, I love Ankh-Morpork, and I love a good love story. But I was went into this book with trepidation as I’d heard “less-than-good” things about the story from sources that I trust. And sadly, those opinions were – in my opinion – well founded. This was one of the weakest Discworld titles I’ve read to date.
The story, in brief, follows the attempts of Lord Vetenari, he of the dog-bothering, to clean up the game of football and, to that end, the wizards, who have their own vested interests in the matter, are roped into putting a team together. While all this is going on, an unlikely love story develops between one nice-but-dim couple and one equally-nice-but-less-dim couple “downstairs” in the university, as it were.
The first problem this book has is pacing. It take about two-hundred pages (out of over five-hundred) for any of the different plot strands to begin to advance. You know from the outset that there’s going to be difficulty getting a team of wizards to “play ball”, that there’s going to be opposition from the kind of people who think a kick about means you literally kick the opposing team about the pitch. You know that there’s something a bit weird going on with Nutt, that Glenda is going to rise above what she sees as her station and cast off her downtrodden way of thinking, and that Juliet is going to prove to have a bit more about her than meets the eye – though not too much more. I don’t mind a predictable plot, where Terry Pratchett’s concerned. However, much like the forwards for Unseen Academicals, it all feels a bit flabby. There’s plenty of dithering on the way there, and at such a lengthy page count (is this one of the longest Discworld novels?), it really shows. While it’s always fun to spend time on the Disc, it doesn’t really work when almost none of the usual magic and sparkle is there.
The second problem is the writing. It doesn’t feel as tight and precise as it has in previous Discworld novels. There are run on sentences and paragraphs all over the place, and I noted what felt like far less clever wordplay than I’m used to in one of Pratchett’s novels. I’m used to feeling lost in the middle of at least five jokes I haven’t picked up on yet, but here, it often felt like the joke was either obvious, or that it wasn’t there to get in the first place. Also, there are quite a few “oo-er-missus” jokes about gay men and balls/sex/general campness and while it doesn’t come off to me as homophobic in the slightest – bearing in mind that I’m straight so please take what I say with a pinch of salt – it’s just a bit tired and unfunny in general. It’s like in The Last Continent where he makes several jokes about sex and the jokes are all literally “HAHAHA ISN’T SEX FUNNY?”
Finally, the characters. For me, and this is really a personal thing, none of the characters really shone. They’re all areas which Pratchett’s covered before – the buxom forthright girl with an understanding of the commonfolk, the special person who doesn’t know he’s special, the stupid pretty girl who isn’t really so stupid, and the complete bleeding psychopath – but that he’s done better and in more interesting circumstances. I liked Glenda and Nutt a lot, but I didn’t love them.
It’s an okay book, really. There’s about 350 pages of decent material here. But I found my attention wandering a lot of the time, and, as it was largely obvious where the plot was going, I couldn’t really get invested in much else about the book. Even the worst Terry Pratchett doesn’t deserve to be lumped in with anything really terrible, and I still like it more than Monstrous Regiment, but I really can’t give Unseen Academicals anything more than five out of ten.