Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Nation (by Terry Pratchett)

A new (well, six months old) Terry Pratchett novel is always something to cheer and be happy about. Unusually, Nation is one of Pterry's few non-Discworld books and also touted as a Young Adults novel - I picked it up from the "Teen" section of my local library. However, I don't know why this is for younger readers; it's written in the same style as Pterry's recent Discworld books and, if anything, deals with darker and more serious material than many of his other works. Perhaps it's just because the two main characters are young teens?

The story - based on a very familiar, alternate 1870s Earth - concerns Mau, a young lad who lives on one of the many small islands in the Southern Pelagic Ocean (i.e. an alternate Pacific Ocean), who has just completed his one month ritual to become a man. Returning back to his home, a tsunami hits killing all of his family and fellow island folk. The tsunami also causes a ship carrying Ermintrude (who decides to call herself Daphne because it sounds more adventurous than her real name), a 'proper' young English girl and daughter of a Governor, to crash into Mau's island. Only she survives, and together with Mau they have to deal with the dead and somehow rebuild Mau's nation, even though they don't understand a thing about one another.

There's a sad and melancholic vibe running through this book. Mau has to deal with the dead bodies of his friends and family whilst coming to terms with being the only one left of his "nation". Daphne comes to realise that Polite Society doesn't really work when you're marooned on a faraway island and is slowly forced toward adulthood with the acceptance of the death of her mother. All the while, questions about belief, religion and science are raised and considered. It's sort of gloomy stuff but written with Pratchett's familiar wit and wordplay. And the ending isn't so much "happy ever after" as acceptable and realistic. Sort of depressing but also uplifting.

It's a strange book, not as brightly amusing as Terry Pratchett's Discworld books but still interesting and engaging. A very, very good read and highly recommended to fans of Pterry's other stories or, because this is a standalone story, anyone wanting to get into his books. It's also recommended to anyone of any age - not just teens!

Grade: Very Fine.

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