A skeleton walked out through black curtains at the far end of the room. It was holding a mug. There was something curiously depressing about the slogan on said mug, which ran: 'Necromancers Do It All Night.'

Unseen Academicals is the thirty-coughth book of the Discworld canon. It's a bit of an odd duck - it's a member of what the Discworld community calls either the 'Ankh-Morpork books' or the 'Industrial Revolution' storyline, in that it involves a cast of new characters and tells a story about the Discworld evolving its own version of something very familiar to our world. However, the Wizards of Unseen University play a central role, which means it might easily be taken for a 'Wizards' book. Rincewind is even in it, albeit very very briefly.

If the prior paragraph meant anything to you, congratulations. You're already a Discworld fan, and you will have acquired this book with no thought for what a review might say. So, really, this review isn't for you, although you're welcome to read on.

For those of you who are wondering what the hell is going on, let me start over.


Unseen Academicals is a fantasy story, set in the increasingly-popular Discworld, written by Sir Terry Pratchett (yes, the Queen knighted him for Services to Literature. He even made himself a sword because, as he put it, a knight should have a sword. But just because he's cooler than that, he and a friend went out and found some iron and, most important, some meteorite iron - and cast the sword out of that. No fooling, look it up.). The book is about many things, ranging from the politics of running a complex fantasy metropolis to the proper role and regulation of sports to the old favorite, town-gown relations. Along the way, it's intimately concerned about what, precisely, makes somebody a person (and what rights that gives them) which is a topic Pratchett has been exploring for some time.

At base, though? This is a story about football stars and supermodels. Where do football stars come from? Where do supermodels come from? Why do they always seem to marry each other? These are the important questions that are answered for us within. Of course, the answers may not apply that well to our world. But they certainly make perfect sense in a world where dwarvish chainmail can be sold in a lingerie version; where academic rivalries can involve wizarding duels, and where the peace is kept by a very very irascible man who employs werewolves and trolls and vampires and gnomes and others so long as they're willing to think like a copper first and seriously prod buttock.

While you will be able to recognize and thus derive fun from many, many more things in the book if you've read earlier Discworld novels, it's not actually necessary. I'm not quite sure if it's fully accessible to the new Discworld reader, because I'm of course unable to read it without getting all the references - but I think it probably is. It might, even, be a good starting book - because so many of our favorite people and things are in this book, a new reader would be sure to recognize something no matter what other Discworld book they picked up next. Of course, be warned - Discworld stories do have a linear progression timewise, despite violating pretty much every other plotting rule. Things, as they say, just happen one after the other, even if the whole concept of Time doesn't exist. So if you read this one first, you'll find that while you recognize people and places in other Discworld books, you might know things about them that either aren't yet true, or even spoil parts of their stories. Fair warning.

The book is one of the good-sized ones, weighing in at around 400 pages in the hardcover edition.

Unseen Academicals

by Terry Pratchett

Harper (US edition); October 6, 2009.
400 pp.
ISBN-10: 0061161705 / ASIN: B003H4RDS8

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