Book Review Nation by Terry Pratchett

Carnegie Medal winning fantasy author Terry Pratchett is best known for his incredibly successful Discworld series. From The Colour of Magic (Colin Smythe, 1983) to the most recent instalment Making Money (Doubleday, 2007), the series includes 36 novels and a range of spin-off books and accessories.

With his most recent writing venture, Nation (Doubleday, 2008), Pratchett has broken away from the Discworld setting to write an independent novel set in what he describes as “a parallel universe” where the Great Southern Pelagic Ocean bears an uncanny similarity to the Pacific Ocean and a remarkable number of people and events reflect those present in the history of the modern world.

Nation, the Story of Mau and the World Turned Upside Down

Returning from The Boys’ Island, where he has been sent as part of a tribal rite of passage, Mau is overtaken by a tsunami. Eventually returning to his home island, Nation, Mau is devastated to discover that his family and tribe, who were waiting on the beach for his return, have been killed by the wave.

Railing against the gods and questioning his own beliefs, Mau seeks to provide a decent burial for his people. As he explores the island, he discovers a large ship stranded amongst the jungle trees. Aboard the ship he finds a sole survivor, a pale-skinned “ghost girl”, Daphne.

To survive and eventually care for other refugees who make their way to the Nation for protection and support, Mau and Daphne must learn to communicate and must re-evaluate the traditions and social standards that they have previously followed without question. As they both struggle to overcome their upbringing and the challenges they face, they discover the true nature of courage and leadership and the value of faith, hope and loyalty.

An Enjoyable Story with a Strong Message

Pratchett fans will not be surprised to find that Nation has a strong message to share with readers well packaged in a very readable, enjoyable story with likeable, multi-faceted characters who respond in believable ways to the challenges they face.

Unlike the multi-layered social commentary underlying the Discworld series, Nation is a more simple narrative with a clear message. The themes are evident in the interactions and conversations between the significant characters rather than half-hidden in the fantasy construct of the Discworld.

Consideration of the nature of leadership and truth, the value of traditions and beliefs, and the many ways that true courage can be demonstrated are primarily shared with the readers through the character of Mau, and to a lesser degree through Daphne. Both characters are young, facing many unfamiliar situations for which they are ill-prepared. In doing so, they illustrate the true resilience of the human spirit.

It is a reflection of Pratchett’s talent that such serious themes and preoccupations are presented in a very readable and enjoyable format that is suitable for readers from their mid-teens through to adult. The humour is gentler than the more raucous and frequently mocking humour of the Discworld, but it nevertheless enables Pratchett to share his message in a manner which readers will find not only instructive but enjoyable. The Grandfather birds and Captain Robert’s swearing parrot are particular highlights.

An Enjoyable Story, Well Told by a Talented Author

With such a significant fan-base and cult-like following for his Discworld series, Pratchett could be forgiven for sticking to the style of story for which he has achieved his well-earned fame.

By stepping beyond the boundaries of the Discworld, Pratchett has shown that his success is not simply a result of the style and subject of his existing series, but rather his own considerable talent for writing fiction that is enjoyable in its own right but which also offers readers something of substance to consider.

Nation (ISBN: 978-0-385-61370-5, 410 pages)

Related review:

The Turtle Moves! Discworld’s Story (Unauthorised) by Lawrence Watt-Evans