Book Review: Nation by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett’s most recent youth novel, Nation, is a fantasy which centers around two extraordinary adolescents, Mau and Daphne.  While Mau is a boy on the brink of completing his tribal ritual which would usher him into manhood, a tsunami strikes, taking everyone Mau has ever known and leaving him — he fears — without a soul.  Daphne enters his life literally on the wave of the tsunami, and these two unlikely young heroes team up, transgressing differences in both language and culture to create a new nation, defined by their own rules and freshly emerging beliefs.

In order to adapt to the small inhospitable island where she has landed, Daphne must overcome her own conservative upbringing, which might be roughly equated to mid to late nineteenth century England.  Mau’s personal beliefs in gods and his people’s place in history are called into question, as he struggles to survive and create a new society, picking up the pieces and building anew from what little is left after the storm.

The whirligig sense of adventure coupled with the definitive off-kilter humor for which Pratchett is known are abundant throughout this tale.  Here is an excerpt describing the severely critical grandmother who helped to raise the self-named Daphne (formerly known as Ermintrude):

“Always remember,” she used to say, far too often, “that it only needs one hundred and thirty-eight people to die and your father will be king! And that means that, one day, you might be queen!”

Grandmother used to say this with a look in her eye that suggested that she was planning 138 murders, and you didn’t have to know the lady for long to suspect that she’d be quite capable of arranging them.  They wouldn’t be impolite murders, of course.

…But she probably wouldn’t go that far, not really.  Nevertheless, she lived in hope, and prepared her granddaughter for a royal life by seeing to it, wherever possible, that Ermintrude was not taught anything that could possibly be of any practical use whatsoever.”

Nation is both broad in the concepts and ideals into which it delves while at the same time specific in the details of this alternate history world.  The characters are a mixture of alarming, funny, and endearing, ranging from a cranky island priest and shipmates-turned-pirates to cannibals, yet all are utterly believable even in their outrageous natures.

Terry Pratchett has published more than three dozen novels, including the popular Discworld fantasy series.  One of the best-selling English language authors of all time, he has received numerous awards and much acclaim for his youth and children’s fiction, including the Carnegie Medal, Britain’s highest honor for a children’s novel, for The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents.  Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men series has been optioned for film by Sony Pictures, and The Bromeliad Trilogy was optioned by Dreamworks.

4 comments

  1. terry pratchett is an excellent author, very clever. i’ll have to check this one out and subtley leave it lying around for my 13 yr old to find.

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