Genre: Coming of Age, Castaways, Young Adult
Reading Challenges: 32 for 100+ in 2009
Terry Prachett is a literary genius. I honestly believe this, and I'm continually recommending his books to anyone who will listen. Often, when someone resists giving Prachett a try, they tell me that it is because they aren't into fantasy and the whole notion of Discworld just sounds silly. Nation, a stand alone non-Discworld novel voids all of those arguments, and is a brilliant book to boot.
The story is set in a sort of parallel universe, during a time much like the Victorian era, and mostly takes place on an island much like those in the pacific. Mau, a young island boy, is returning from the solo journey that will make him a man in the eyes of his fellow islanders. Ermintrude, the daughter of a British aristocrat, is sailing in the company of strangers to meet her father, the governor of a neighboring island. Without warning, a killer wave decimates Mau's island, destroys Ermintrude's ship, and brings the two of them together on what remains of Mau's small island. Together, Mau and Daphne, as she is now known, struggle to understand each other and their respective customs, and to meet the needs of the steady stream of survivors looking to them for answers.
This is a departure in some ways from Terry's previous books. I found it less humorous (although there is still plenty of Pratchett's signature wit), and more emotionally engaging. This is something I have also noticed in the latest Discworld novels, but it is especially evident here. The initial scenes, specifically those in which Mau returns to his island and finds his family and friends dead, are heartbreaking. As always with Terry's writings, this novel gives plenty of opportunities for pondering a few deeper thoughts that sneak in as you are simply enjoying the story. One of the more powerful themes revolves around the power of belief and tradition, and the impact on a society and an individual when those trusted beliefs are challenged by a monumental tragedy.
Nation is simply a powerful and pretty much perfect novel, written by a gifted author. If you have never read anything by Pratchett, let me recommend this book. I also highly recommend the audio book, read by Stephen Briggs. Briggs does a fabulous job of bringing the characters to life.
Finally, here is a little more about Nation from Terry himself: