‘Gentlemen,’ he said gravely. ‘We must partake of the game of the people – from whom, I might add, we derive. Has any of us, in the last few decades, even seen the game being played? I thought not. We should get outside more.
Football. Football, football, football! Right, that’s that over with. The game of two halves, jumpers for goal posts, all that, has landed in the city of Ankh-Morpork. Of course this means disaster is just around the corner.
The wizards of the Unseen University have discovered that essential funding for the faculty (mostly spent on their multiple breakfasts, lunches and dinners) is tied up with an arcane law that requires them to play a single game of foot-the-ball. Unfortunately the game has been made illegal and is played on the back streets of the city. Well not so much played, as fought. Often to the death. Of course Lord Vetinari the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork has a plan.
There’s also the matter of the mysterious Mister Nutt, a goblin with a dark secret. Hidden beneath the University, employed as a dribbler (which is somebody who dribbles candle wax on the wick to give that perfect eldritch look that wizards require in their light sources). Seen as a posh sort, for having a vocabulary of more than seven hundred words, Mister Nutt is an unlikely candidate for such a dreary job. Yet he seems harmless enough and is taken in by Trev Likely and the kindly Glenda Sugarbean. Unbeknownst to them, their new friend’s past is about to catch up with them all. He is not just any ordinary goblin. The city has become a home for dozens of races, trolls, dwarves, even vampires. Mister Nutt is different, a pawn in a dangerous game of Vetinari’s to resolve centuries old racial conflict. It just so happens he’s chosen the game of foot-the-ball to resolve these issues.
The danger in reviewing Pratchett books is the temptation to try and be as funny. Of course, this is impossible. Also Unseen Academicals contains his usual mixture of satire and commentary. The Discworld novels may be set in a world of mythical creatures, but Pratchett introduces more and more contemporary issues into the mix. Of late the multicural mix of Ankh-Morpork has been given a great deal of attention.
Glenda Sugarbean is yet another strong Pratchett heroine, the only one who sees Mister Nutt for who he really is. As a cook working in the Unseen University, she is privy to the discussions on gentrifying football and resents the manipulation of the working class by ‘the nobs’. Vetinari’s plan is to make the city more progressive, no matter what anyone thinks. The men who play foot-the-ball in the backstreets are being chewed up by mob violence and their wives and daughters are trapped at home hoping for opportunity to snatch them away from their dreary lives.
Pratchett throws in references to Romeo and Juliet, women’s magazines and useless football commentators to keep the joke quotient high, but at the same time what’s most striking is his interest in people, how they think, how they act. Yes this is satire, but more a gentle ribbing of our weaknesses and failings. If ever you’ve read Pratchett before, you already know he’s a master of this kind of thing. If you haven’t, Unseen Academicals is a perfect introduction.