Sunday, July 24, 2011

Nation - Terry Pratchett

2008; 370 pages.  Genre : YA Fiction; Adventure.  New Author? : No.  Overall Rating : 9*/10.

    In the 19th-century South Pacific (known here as the "South Pelagic") a huge tsunami inundates an island village, leaving only one boy, Mau, as a survivor.   The killer wave also destroys an English sailing ship, depositing its wreckage on the same island, including a single survivor - a highborn girl, Ermintrude (aka "Daphne").

    Will the two castaways manage to  learn to communicate?  To survive?  To help the other refugees that straggle in?  To deal with the pirates that are prowling the area?

What's To Like...
    Nation is not part of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series.  It is darker, and deals with more serious and complex issues than are encountered in Ankh-Morpork.  And while there is some Pratchettian humor (most notably a salty-tongued parrot), it is overall less silly in nature.

    The tale plods for a bit as we get through the "Robinson Crusoe" phase, but picks up nicely with the arrival of others, along with Mau and Daphne's exploration of the island.  When the bad guys show up, things really get cooking.  This is also a coming-of-age story, but nothing unseemly.  Indeed, Nation is a YA book, though adults will enjoy it too.

    Pratchett weaves some nice twists into the storyline, and just when you think you've reached the climax, he shows you that isn't what he considers to be the main ending at all.

Kewlest New Word...
Crosier : a staff surmounted with a crook or cross, carried by bishops as a symbol of their office.

    "She is a lady indeed, although my limited experience of her suggests that she is also a mixture of the warrior queen Boadicea without the chariot, Catherine de'Medici without the poisoned rings, and Attila the Hun without his wonderful sense of fun.  Do not play cards with her, because she cheats like a Mississippi bustout dealer, keep sherry away from her, do everything she says, and we might all live."
    "Sharp tongue, eh?"
    "Razor blade, Captain."  (pg. 9)

    "Why did the wave spare you?  Why did it spare me?  Why did it spare that baby which will die soon enough?  Why does it rain?  How many stars are in the sky?  We cannot know these things!  Just be thankful the gods spared your life!" shouted the old man.
    "I will not!  To thank them for my life means I thank them for the deaths."  (pg. 102)

Magic is just a way of saying "I don't know."  (pg. 157)
    How do you measure "civilization"?  If a country can make warships and cannons, and sail around the earth;  is it more "civilized" than one that uses spears and dugout canoes to live off the land; and can only travel among a chain of islands?

    Are our "western" deities superior to "nature' or "elemental" ones?  Are they more valid?  Where do natural disasters like a tsunami fit in with a supernatural plan?  Can any gods coexist with science?

    What is the balance between personal aspirations and duty to one's country?  Is a monarch freer or more confined by his role than you and I?  Finally, what priority does love have in all this?

    These are all good questions, and all get evenly addressed here, although Pratchett leaves it to you to determine the answers.  Nation is a worthy read for anyone over about 12 years old and will leave you with lots to ponder.  9 Stars.

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