Saturday, October 04, 2008
REVIEW: Nation by Terry Pratchett
In the interest of full disclosure I should admit that Terry Pratchett is my hero. He has been my favorite author for as long as I've been reading him-- since my teens, anyway. For over 20 years I've worshipped the page he typed on. So I'm writing this review in first person and gushing unapologetically. To do otherwise would be a tad dishonest.
Nation, Pratchett's most recent young adult novel, is yet another reason I am a giddy fan-girl for this guy. Known best, perhaps, for his Discworld series for adults, Pratchett's Tiffany Aching/Wee Free Men series has recently gained in popularity. He has also writtenJohnny and the Bomb and The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rats. Adults don't hesitate to cross over from his bitingly witty and deeply esoteric works to enjoy his YA fiction. He's that good.
In Nation Pratchett explores yet another universe, one in which England is struck by the Russian Plague in the mid-19th century. Darwin has everyone scratching their heads; the royal family is growing smaller by the coffin; and after the king and 138 royals in succession to the throne die, the last hope for the monarchy is Ermintrude, a very young woman who ends up shiprecked en route to Port Mercia, where her father is governor. Stuck on an island in the middle of the Pelagic Ocean with a strange lad named Mau, Ermintude decides to change her name to Daphne (and who could blame her?), break all the rules, and start over with a stiff upper lip.
Mau, too, has had his world turned upside-down by the very same tsunami that stranded Ermintude/Daphne. His entire tribe is gone, the mystical Grandfathers are shouting in his about rules and proper cultural procedures, and a blond, fair-skinned young woman who comes from the trouserpeople tribe is invading his space. He's not sure why he should follow rules at all, since everything seems quite over, but the rules are still in his head. What now?
Turns out neither Mau nor Daphne are as alone as they thought. Challenges naturally arise. Before their journey is done they will have learned to care for the elderly, the infirm, and the brand-spanking-new. How to procure milk for a newborn with no mother? I'm not going to tell you. Read Nation and I promise you... you'll NEVER FORGET that act of courage and ingenuity.
The novel takes a fresh approach to the notion of isolation and nature vs. nurture. Two young people with plenty of cultural and spiritual baggage are forced to find their own way in a new world, one devestated and stripped bare. They confront death, puberty, prejudice, and nature together and learn a great deal.
Lucky for us, Pratchett takes us along on the journey.
Don't miss Nation. Pratchett's novel is unique even as it parodies and deconstructs works with similar themes. This is no Animal Farm, nor is it Robinson Crusoe. It's pure, unadulturated Pratchett. Culturally sly, philosophically deep, and laugh-out-loud clever, Nation is the best thing I've read in young adult fiction this year.