Terry Pratchett's recent form has been criticised by many. "Nation" divided fans. "Making Money" couldn't live up to the standard set by "Going Postal" a few years before, much like "Wintersmith" with the two previous Tiffany Aching novels. But one thing was clear about these books, it was that Pratchett, even when slightly off the top form we have cme to expect from him, can still win awards for his books and is usually leagues ahead of the competition.
"Unseen Academicals" on the other hand, is utterly joyful to read. On the outside it seems like a book about football, but as the quote on the back quite aptly points out, "The important thing about football is that it isn't about football." What we have here is a novel about the uncontrollable culture of football and the broad range of football zealots, from the lovers of the game and the men with the skills to the angry old women shouting "kick 'im in da nutz!" and violent hooligans that dominate the Shove.
But wrapped even more deeply is a realisation that Pratchett was actually warning us with that back cover quote. It really isn't about football. The sub-plot, surrounding Mister Nutt, an intelligent and incredibly polite goblin, and his Unseen University colleagues, Glenda the Night Kitchen cook, her assistant Juliet and candle dribbler, Trev Likely. This sub-plot, however, takes up at least 60% of the book, so to call it so would be an injustice. And further so, because it is a wonderful tale of romance, adversity and acceptance. Pratchett has created something quite special with the character of Mister Nutt, who will be a favourite of fans for years to come.
The laughs are more frequent than "Making Money" and the novels of the last few years, with the Wizards, Archchancellor Ridcully in particular, and his ever present number two, Ponder Stibbons, always nearby when something is making you laugh out loud. Only Pratchett has the ability to bring such a clever wit to the level of blurt-out embarrass yourself in public laughter, and you'll experience this many times while reading "Unseen Academicals." Fans of Rincewind, be aware that he has only a cameo appearance in this book and is by no means the main character. But you will not be disappointed, because Ridcully, Nutt, Vetinari and Glenda will be more than enough to keep you entertained.
"Unseen Academicals", while not one of the overall best in the Discworld series, like "Night Watch" or "Mort", is certainly in the second tier of greats and is the best Pratchett for many years, and when the final whistle blows, you'll be wishing for more!