So, I picked up Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals at my library's Friends of the Library Bookstore, 'cause, you know, it was all humorous and academic and stuff. With wizards and orangutans and dwarfs and goblins and golems and who knows what other kind of fantastical creatures (some of them don't know what they are, so why should we?). And I'd heard a lot about how amazing Terry Pratchett is, so I thought, Hey, why not give this a try? And then the Terry Pratchett Challenge came along and I was all--this must be fate, so I should read it. (And it made me feel all whimsical--can you tell? Is my whimsy showing?)
And then I read the story. Which goes something like this: The wizards at Unseen University are bumping along just fine. Teaching potions and chants and magic and all that good wizard stuff. That is when they're not eating their three square meals a day, plus tea time, plus, like, oh, maybe 42 snacks here and there. Life is good in the halls of wizardly academe. Until Ponder Stibbons, the Archchancellor's right-hand man, general keeper-in-line of all university things, and most importantly, the keeper of traditions, discovers that the University has been falling down on the job on one very important tradition--fielding a team to play "foot-the-ball" (soccer to you and me). If the wizards don't get their pointy-hatted act together and play a game right quick, they will lose a substantial endowment....and all eating opportunities save three meals a day (with vastly reduced portions). Very few of the wizards have ever seen a ball, let alone tried to foot it--but by golly their cheese tray choices are at stake. And then Lord Ventinari, Ankh-Morpork's benevolent tyrant, gets involved and insists that not only must they play their game, but in order to keep their very special Archchancellor's pointy hat they will need to win a game...without using magic.
While the wizards are busy trying to sort themselves out athletically, down in the cellars of UU romance is budding and an answer to their quandary is brewing. Trevor Likely, a chandler, and his fellow candle-dripper, Mr. Nutt, become involved with Juliet ( beautiful, fairly dim maid and kitchen help who also may be the greatest fashion model ever) and her friend Glenda, the University's night cook--who just happens to make the best pies and other pastry dainties ever. Trev is a handsome fellow and a darn good kicker--son of one of the town's most renowned foot-the-ballers. He loves Juliet who happens to be the daughter of one of the leading families in a rival team. He also believes that he's not fit to wipe her boots. Juliet thinks Trev is pretty keen as well--but can't understand why he doesn't even try to sneak one little kiss. Trev is friends with Mr. Nutt--a mysterious person who claims to be a goblin, but seems better educated than most of the professors at the university. At least he has a bigger vocabulary. But even beyond that he may not be what he seems. Events soon lead our foursome above stairs to mix with their betters and to show the wizards a thing or two about how the ball should be footed.
This book had its moments. There were some very funny bits. I particularly like Glenda and Mr. Nutt. I enjoyed some of the academic word-play and the satirical commentary on academic life (I always get a kick out of that--working in an English Department as I do). But it wasn't sustained. I found myself skimming the book and downright bored stiff in certain places (and that wasn't just when we were discussing "foot-the-ball" a bit overmuch). A fun read, a decent read. But not one that I'd highly recommend and certainly not one I'll read again. I understand from other comments that this may not be Sir Terry's best work...so perhaps if I come across an earlier book, I might give him another go. Not a high priority, however. Three stars for an okay outing.
I do have a few favorite quotes, though: