“Unseen Academicals”

Terry Pratchett

Taking a break from my reading new books to reread a favorite of mine! Some friends of mine took part in a recreational soccer league recently, and watching their games put me in the mood for Unseen Academicals. And, upon finishing the reread, I was surprised to find that I’d never posted a review of it.

As with everything Pratchett wrote, the book is a delight to read, a perfect blend of serious story and characters with comedy. It is, frankly, utterly unsurprising that he was awarded a knighthood for his writing; it’d be a shame if he hadn’t been honored.

The thing that makes Unseen Academicals such a long-standing favorite for me is Nutt. And now, in reading it again, there’s a part of me that doesn’t like how neatly his arc is tied together in the end. It’s hardly realistic—that degree of anxiety doesn’t just go away like that. But then, it’s a work of fiction, and more importantly, it’s telling a story. A story has to have a neat ending, or it won’t feel complete.

Still, though, I’ve always loved the portrayal of his fighting through it. The Sisyphean struggle to be worthy:

“But he makes wonderful candles,” she added quickly. “He’s always making things. It’s as if… worth is something that drains away all the time so you have to keep topping it up.”

I really can’t say how much I adore this book. I’ve given copies of it to people before, and likely will again. Go read it.1

  1. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.

The Shepherd’s Crown

“Look up here, I’m in heaven” – David Bowie, Lazarus

The Shepherd’s Crown was Terry Pratchett’s last book, published after his death. And man, I thought that Raising Steam was hard to read but, oh, The Shepherd’s Crown was so much worse. Because Raising Steam was a lively romp across the entire Disc, a chance for every single one of the characters we love to show us their lives one more time. Little glances that showed us they were doing well, living on even though we wouldn’t be able to see any more of them.
The Shepherd’s Crown wasn’t that. Part of this is because it’s for a different market – the Tiffany Aching series is the Young Adult branch of the Discworld, and so the assumption that we know all these characters isn’t there. The short introductions given to concepts that I know well, having read every Discworld book, seemed strange and out of place to me.1
And oh, those first couple of chapters were rough. (I try to avoid spoilers, but that’s not going to work this time, so consider this your spoiler warning. If you haven’t read the book yet and you want to preserve it for yourself… why are you reading reviews, anyways? It’s Terry Pratchett, it’s guaranteed to be good.)

Alright, I’ll assume that everyone who hasn’t read the book has stopped reading now.

Granny Weatherwax wasn’t just an integral part of the Aching series, she was an anchor for a number of other books as well. Seeing her go… she was okay with it, but I must say that I wasn’t. And nor was anyone else. Reading Ridcully’s hearing about her death, and his response to it, was hard.
And yes, a lot of that is because of the echoes of Terry Pratchett himself in her character. It’d been common knowledge for a while that he didn’t have much time left – he was very public about the advanced form of Alzheimers that he had2 and his own desire to not allow the disease to make his end debilitating. In short, he knew that he was dying. And, in much the same way that his death was a momentous event for the people of the Disc, so, too, was that of Granny Weatherwax.
Basically, while Raising Steam was a chance for the people of the Discworld to say goodbye to us readers, The Shepherd’s Crown was Terry Pratchett’s goodbye. And lord, but I hate goodbyes.
The book gives us a while to dwell on that sadness, mourn the loss, but then it’s time to get going again. Time halts for no man nor woman, and Tiffany has big shoes to fill. From there, it’s almost a coming-of-age story: Tiffany takes the place that everyone but her knew was coming for her, as the first-among-equals leader of the witches of the Disc. And, slowly, she comes into her own: as a young woman, she’s got that same lack of self-confidence that’s almost a key component of any young adult, but she’s also a powerful witch in her own right. The book is her coming to terms with that, the good and the bad. And in that regard, it’s wonderful.
I think I’m going to stop here, because anything else I could say would be spoiling more of the book than I already have, and I couldn’t live with myself were that the case. I quite enjoyed it, sadness and all.
A hat tip to Sir Terry: you were one of the greatest writers of our time, and you are sorely missed.

  1. This sort of thing is, I think, the reason I never much got into the Tiffany Aching books. I have them all, as I’ve got every Discworld book – except the Science of Discworld series, but I’m working on that – but I don’t go back and reread them like I do the others. 
  2. Don’t cite me on this part, I’m writing it from memory while in a moving vehicle so I can’t easily Google to verify my memory of the facts.