Terry Pratchett’s latest novel, Nation, is a non-Discworld fantasy. Set on an island in the Great Pelagic Ocean (a slightly alternate version of the Pacific) in the 19th century, it opens with a tsunami that kills every member of The Nation but one [*], a teenage boy named Mau, and shipwrecks an English girl called Daphne (née Ermintrude). Together, they begin to rebuild The Nation.
[*] Pratchet’s YA novels tend to be much darker than his “adult” ones. I think I only laughed in two places in this book, both quite late; and the more serious tone makes the handful of footnotes a rather awkward fit.
I thoroughly enjoyed this. I thought the portrayal of the tsunami and its aftermath was one of Pratchett’s more effective pieces of writing, and of course I’m a sucker for building-civilization type stories. This book reminds me somewhat of The Bromeliad in this respect, and indeed most of its themes are familiar ones in Pratchett’s work: science, faith, community, monsters (the human kind), and so forth. But because Pratchett is writing so close to the real world this time, the book is working in much more difficult territory. I’d like to offer a searching analysis of how the novel negotiates this, but I can’t. While I think it avoids the most obvious pitfalls, I so enjoyed the characters and what happen to them that I have a hard time bringing my analytic facilities to bear. About the only criticism I can muster is that I wonder if the Epilogue isn’t a little too perfect: it makes me look back at the way that perfection was achieved and see the seams in its construction.
(Spoilers, ROT-13: gur arprffnel ryrzrag vf qncuar’f sngure orpbzvat xvat, juvpu bayl unccraf orpnhfr bs gur vasyhramn, ohg gung genhzn vf oneryl zragvbarq nsgre gur bcravat. vs jr’q frra gur ratyvfu punenpgref tevrir bire fcrpvsvp qrnguf, be rira gnyx nobhg gur qvssvphyg gvzrf nurnq tvira gur uhtr cbchyngvba ybffrf, gur syh jbhyq unir sryg yrff yvxr n cybg pbairavrapr gb zr.)
After the recent distressing news about Pratchett’s health, I don’t know whether to expect more novels from him. But I’m very glad to have this one.