The best thing about this book is the relieving fact that Terry Pratchett has sorted out his writing to the point that he once again has some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. The stream of rehashed, reheated, repetitive books with milquetoast characters who bumble through mindless plots has been broken rather decisively by a book that feels like it was written ten years ago, when Terry Pratchett sat alone and unchallenged on the throne of comedy writing.
Unseen Academicals is rather heavy-handed in its moralising and its constant pronouncements that everyone is valuable and everyone has a chance to make something out of his or her or itself; but since when has Terry Pratchett shied away from pasting his opinions all over his books? The ending of this book is pretty clear from the first sixty or eighty pages in, but the writing remains entertaining – and that is what Pratchett’s books are all about.
Thankfully, there are absolutely no scenes in the book with anything to do with football (until the final forty pages), although when we do finally get around to the Big Game, it is handled rather badly, with a cameo appearance by William deWorde stammering a very poorly-imagined commentary that doesn’t seem to have been edited since the first draft was scrawled on a napkin. He was never the most successful of characters, and writing about sports is probably the least interesting thing any writer could do, but thankfully this part is over quickly.
A sour note to end with, but a relief that a great writer has returned to form at long last.