Today I am reviewing Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett. This book is the 37th installment in the beloved Discworld series. It is also one of the very last books written by Sir Terry before he passed away in 2015. But take a look at this book's cover. What do you think it is about? If you guessed this book is about football, then you are right. The question, is Unseen Academicals only about football? Well, the important thing about football is that it is not about football; just like the important thing about a Discworld novel is not about fantasy. This means, while Unseen Academicals is literally, fantasy football, but it is also much, much more.
So we have fantasy, a parody about football, and a reflection about life. I should be enjoying this book, right? Not quite. I would say, Unseen Academicals, together with Eric, are two of my least favorite Discworld novels. Before I discuss this book, however, let me provide a synopsis.
On the cobbled streets of Ankk Morpork reside a football culture that is not very “cultured”. Why? It is because football translates to pushing and shoving to the Morporkians both on and off the field. This is why the city needs a new type of football; fast, with pointy hats for goalposts and balls that go gloing when players dropped them on the ground.
Hang on, did you say pointy hats? That is right. To kickstart the game, the wizards at Unseen University must emerge victorious from the first football match without using magics. Ha, but wizards without magics are just a bunch of old men with long beards, so in a game of foot-the-ball, they will surely end up getting slaughtered, right? Not so fast! The wizards have yet to reveal their secret weapons; a street urchin with an amazing talent for kicking a tin can, a cook with a recipe for making mouth-watering pies, a beautiful but dim young woman who might just be the greatest model ever, and a mysterious man called Mr. Nutt who knows others better than himself.
Four ordinary people teaming up with a bunch of old academics to play a football game. The outcome may just be life-changing and entering Ankh Morpork's annual for sporting events. Mark it down, this team is called Unseen Academicals.
My thoughts on this book:
Unseen Acacemicsls is witty and humorous. Underneath this “fantasy” football comedy is a heart warming story about self-image and self-identity. The wizards tickled my funny bone with their eccentricity and oddness. Meanwhile, I was very fond of the four main protagonists in this book. Unseen Academicals is set in a fantasy world, but its story and characters are about real life issues in our world. In this case, each of the four protagonists embodied a challenge to real things in our world, from stereotypes, prejudices, the fashion industry, and sports as religion.
While Unseen Academicals' theme and humors are worthy of praise, but I don't like this book as much as other Discworld novels. I struggled in the first 200 pages, because it was very slow at establishing its background and the characters. The story remained unfocused from the middle book and all the way to the end. The transitions between POV characters were often poor, thereby disrupting the story's momentum. To me, Unseen Academicals felt like a book that was stuck to the second gear, and I struggled to follow through the story.
Having said this, we must remember, when Terry Pratchett wrote this book he was already ill with Alzheimer's. Perhaps the better way to treat Unseen Academicals, is to examining its meanings, and then looking at how this book explored the issues that matter in our own society. This book is worth a read. And it dawned on me, while this book touched some serious topics in our cultures, but it still made me laugh heartily. Our world, like Discworld, are full of unsung heroes, the small folks, who take on life and all its challenges with goodwill and brevity. So, while the world may not be full of sunshine and rainbow, but every time I read a Discworld novel, it makes me realize that things are only appearing so grim because I am blinded to the good stuff sitting right next to me.