Unseen Academicals, a review

Unseen Academicals
by Terry Pratchett
A Discworld Novel

As read by Stephen Briggs
14 ½ Hours (unabridged)

Sorry if I spell things wrong. As I have it on audio, I don’t have the book in front of me.


unseenWhen the Unseen University—a college for wizards—discovers a law that states that they must participate in the city football games, Mr. Nutt, the assistant candle dribbler at the University, is brought in to coach the seemingly hopeless team of over-the-hill, over-weight wizard professors. But there’s something odd about Mr. Nutt. He appears to be a goblin, but not even he can remember himself. His new friends at the University help him tap into the closed doors in his mind to rediscover who he is, but it turns out those doors had been closed for everyone else’s safety.


Meanwhile, Mr. Nutt’s candle dribbler boss, Trevor Likely, falls in love with assistant cook, Juliette who has recently been signed onto a modeling contract. Her supervisor in the kitchen, Ms. Glenda, has spent her whole life warning Juliette against men but ends up falling for Mr. Nutt.


It’s match day, and Trevor—whose father was a famous footballer killed in a game—won’t play because he’d promised his old mum never to end up like his dad. But the opposing team is headed by Andy, the meanest, toughest crook in the city. Trev sees that the wizards have all turned off their magic and the Watch is smart enough to stay bloody well out of this, so if he just sits on the sidelines, this friendly football match is going to be a bloodbath.


I have this book on audio. As always, Stephen Briggs does an amazing job capturing the different characters through a variety of voices and accents.


This wasn’t my favorite Discworld book probably because there wasn’t enough unique elements to it. I don’t want to use the word “formulaic,” but it reminds me of some of the other books with football and modeling switched in. However, it is still a good book with a lot of clever insight on those topics and certainly hilarious lines and moments.


This is a cast of mostly new characters. We have not seen Mr. Nutt, Trev Likely, Glenda, or Juliette before. However, we do get to see lots of Vetinari, which I’m sure pleases most people as he seems to be people’s favorite. He also meets with Lady Margalotta (sp?) who is Nutt’s ‘creator.’ Vetinari even “gets drunk” if you can imagine that. And of course there’s the wizards. We get pretty much all of the relevant wizards in this book, so if you’re a fan of Ridcully or the Dean or the Librarian or Hix or Ponder or even Rincewind, you’ve got them here. No Bursar, I’m afraid though.


One thing that makes this book unique is a clear passage of time. The Discworld is not a static environment. Pratchett moves it through time faster than our world moves through time. This is why we see new inventions in nearly every book (ie the Newspaper, etc.). In this book, there has been some changeover in positions within the University. The Dean has moved onto a different school and has become Archchancellor there, which causes a great deal of rivalry with Archchancellor Ridcully when he returns to visit Ankh Morpork. Ponder Stibbons also seems to have gone up in rank and is unofficially in charge of everything in the University (except teaching) because no one else does their jobs very well.


I think this is the first time that we are introduced to the species goblins and orcs. If you’re just coming into the series, there might be too many similar species to keep track of now. Trolls (huge rock-like creatures), dwarves (short and bearded people who dig for gold), elves (shiny and scary as hell), golums (mindless clay creatures) on top of vampires, werewolves, zombies, and witches. But this progression of “new” creatures allows a good satire of racism. The people of Ankh have a lot of mean things to say about orcs, but they used to say all those bad things about trolls and dwarves, but now trolls and dwarves are part of society, so perhaps someday so will orcs. It’s like our progression of persecuted people: it’s black people, then women, then gay people, and each group slowly gets accepted into society but we don’t seem to realize the pattern when the next group of people to persecute come along. There’s a wonderful part that says something like “I don’t have anything against them as long as they keep themselves to themselves.” It’s a common phrase that’s supposed to show that you’re not prejudiced, but you’d never say that about people you actually like. The entire series has a very clear and open-minded view on prejudices and shows it for what it is.


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