Monday, September 29, 2008

a review of "Nation"

Nation by Terry Pratchett

In a way, the realm given to us by Pratchett in 'Nation' is familiar. It is an alternate vision of the world of the middle of the 19th century, a time of Empires and Kings and sailing ships and pirates in the South Seas. And also, in ways, the story told in 'Nation' is hardly original. Two young people, from very different backgrounds, marooned on a tropical island, must learn how to survive. They must learn how to re-create themselves in this new world, since for both of them the reality that they knew and the future that they foresaw for themselves is gone. But Pratchett puts some unique twists on this world.

Mau is returning from a distant island, the Boy's Island, where he had survived for a month and so, upon his arrival back on his home island, will be declare a man.
A short distance away Ermintrude ,or as she decides to call herself, Daphne, is sailing to join her father, the Governor of the Pelagic Territories, a chain of small islands in the Great Southern Pelagic Ocean. For both of them, life as they knew it will be changed forever by a giant tidal wave that races across the ocean, shipwrecking Daphne's boat and killing all on it but her and slaughtering all the inhabitants of Mau's home, killed as they wait on the beach for his return.
And half a world away, Europe is suffering from a terrible Plague that will require a drastic action by a mysterious group to save the monarchy.

The future is not as they envisioned it...
“She (Daphne) was crying. Mau hadn't understood the words but he understood the tears. You're not sure of the future either. You thought you were, it was so close you could see it in your head, and now you think it's washed away, so you're trying to talk it into coming back.”

But that world is gone and Mau and Daphne, soon joined but a few others survivors, will be challenged to face all sorts of obstacles. He is a boy who is not quite a man, and a boy whose gods, the gods that have shaped his reality, are dead. He must be the Chief, because the people need a leader, ever though as Mau says about himself “Even though I may be an empty thing and in a world of shadows”.
Daphne, although raised by her grandmother to be a very proper young woman of society...which seems to mean she should learn nothing but needlepoint...proves to be a very brave and resourceful young woman. And try to save Mau from those shadows.

This alternate world that Pratchett creates is in many way fascinating and very entertaining. The island is a world of tree climbing octopus and foul mouth parrots, sailfin crocodiles and amusing grandfather birds but danger as well. The characters, both major and minor, are smart and real and grow as the story develops. And Mr. Pratchett is a very good and often amusing writer.

But...yes, there is a but...there is one issue and I found it a rather annoying issue. Mr. Pratchett has an agenda, a message he would like to propose. Science is good...religion is not. Science is true..religion is a false reality that people create from the misunderstood truths of science. One example, and for those that are concerned about such things, a bit of a *spoiler* one point they investigate an ancient cave on the island that challenges some things that they believe. But, to the anger of Mau, some of the islanders want to see that reality differently.
“They believe in anything! This morning I heard one of the new ones talking about 'The Cave the Gods Made'! We made it! Men made the gods too. Gods of cold stone, which we made so that we could hide from the dark in a shell of comfortable lies.”

Ok..I get your point...again and again. But there is something to be said for being subtle in how it is expressed. Every book, to some degree, expresses the author's view of the world, but I don't think that you have to hit the reader over the head with it.

I will give him a point back on the score for not going with the easy “happily ever after” ending. As an old man, who is telling this story to two children on the island, many years later says. ...
” 'it's the kind of ending you get in real life' said the old man, 'and isn't the story about being real?' ”

Well...sort of.

I haven't read anything by Pratchett before, and from what I read, this novel, aimed supposedly at the YA market, is not as humorous as most of his earlier work. I could have done with a bit more humor myself, but overall a well written, entertaining book. Perhaps I will dip a toe in his Discworld books in the future...

Available from Amazon


  1. I'm stuck in the middle of this one, and I'm fairly disappointed with it so far. I was so thrilled to get it because I loved the Wee Free Men trilogy - which is hysterically laugh out loud funny, but this just isn't. The agenda thing is mildly irritating, but the lack of humor is more so to me because it's not at all what I was expecting.

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  3. ot having read anything of his before, I guess I was luckily not to expect it to be funny then!
    It was not until afterward, when I went to read a bit about him, that I read that many of his books are humorous.

    So, is the Wee Free Man trilogy his best in your opinion? If I wanted to read what book is considered his best...anyone have any other suggestions?

  4. Nice review :-) I think his Discworld books have more of his brand of arch humor :-)


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