Thursday, September 9, 2010
A Long Time Ago On An Island Far, Far Away....*
Last night, I finished reading Terry Pratchett's Nation, and, as expected, it doesn't disappoint. It's one of Pratchett's novels aimed at Young Adults (recommended on BN.com for ages 12 and up), but I'd challenge you to find anything before the "Author's Note" at the end that feels directed toward any particular age group. (I suppose I should acknowledge that I've read most of Pratchett's other "Young Adult" novels and enjoyed them thoroughly as well. I prefer to think he speaks "up" to youngsters.)
The story starts, (seemingly in the early 19th Century Pacific-- it's never explicitly stated), with Mau venturing off alone to a small nearby island to undergo part of the rites that will transform him from a boy into a man. After completing his assigned tasks, he begins rowing his canoe back to his own people's island, the Nation. Before he reaches home, a Tsunami strikes, and he's the only survivor from his people. The only other person on the island is a young English girl whose ship was washed ashore by the wave.
Mau and Daphne's first meeting is almost their last, but surviving that, they're now faced with dealing with other survivors who begin slowly arriving from other neighboring islands. But Mau has other problems. He's shed his childhood, but not yet completed the rituals that make him a man. This leaves him in danger in the beliefs of his people, like a hermit crab having left one shell, but not yet found a new, larger one. Worse than that, he now doubts the existence of all of the Gods he was raised to believe in (while having face to face arguments with some of them). Nevertheless, this strange mystical not-a-boy-but-not-yet-a-man is looked to as a leader by all who find their way to the island.
Daphne, who has grown up in the smothering society of Victorian England, finds herself horrified by the things she's called upon to do at the same time as she glories in her new freedom and sense of purpose.
Mau, Daphne and their collection of refugees will be called upon to rebuild their society while dealing with hunger, children being born, Angry Deities, Cannibals and murderous Mutineers. Not to mention the challenges of coping with a distant Empire and learning how to milk a pig!
It's a wonderful, sweet and surprising story, told with Pratchett's signature twists of language. If you've enjoyed any of Pratchett's other work, you'll enjoy this one. If you haven't read his stuff before...Holy Crap, what's wrong with you? This would be as fine a place to start as any!"
Personal Note: If you're familiar with Pratchett, you'll know that he was diagnosed with a form of early onset Alzheimer's a few years ago. At the time, he wrote that he and his doctors thought he had time for "at least a few more books yet". For purely selfish reasons, I hope he does. His writing is always inventive, unexpected and fun, with more than a hint of the subversive. He's an author that I never regret buying (which I've now done 30-something times), and I'll continue to do so as long as he keeps publishing. More Terry Pratchett in the world is, unquestionably, a good thing.
*For any of you Grammar Nazis who may take exception with that one extra dot in the ellipses, I was (duh), alluding to the Star Wars opening titles...which used four dots. Yell at George Lucas if you've got a problem!
Posted by Nathan at 12:14 AM