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Terry Pratchett – Nation

April 16, 2010

38. Nation by Terry Pratchett (2008)

Read By: Stephen Briggs
Length: 9h 33min (384 pages)

Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction(ish)

Started: 20 March 2010
Finished: 05 April 2010

Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? I’d heard many, many good things about it, and I wanted an audiobook that was both relatively short and relatively likely to be enjoyable.

How do you build a
life, when everything you knew
has been swept away?

Summary: Nation is set in an alternate version of the south Pacific ocean during the late 1800s. Mau is a boy – soon to be man – who is caught up in a tsunami during his manhood rites. When he returns to his home island, his village and everyone he’s ever known is gone, swept away by the wave. However, he’s not alone on the island; a British ship has been shipwrecked on the island by the tsunami, with a British young lady as its only survivor. Daphne (the young lady – or “the ghost girl”, as Mau calls her) knows all of the finer points of etiquette, but must come to terms with the fact that nothing in her breeding has prepared her for survival on a tropical island. Mau, the last survivor of his people, must not only figure out how to live without a village to support him, but how to live with the death of everything he knows, and with the capricious gods who would allow such a terrible thing to happen. Only together do they have any hope of rebuilding the world and the life washed away by the wave.

Review: I liked Good Omens well enough, but after reading my first few of Pratchett’s solo novels, I didn’t understand what all of the fuss was about. They were fine, but they didn’t strike me as anything special. But, now that I’ve listened to the Tiffany Aching books and Nation, I can describe myself as a full-on fan. (Maybe I only like Terry Pratchett as read by Stephen Briggs? It’s a distinct possibility; he’s a wonderful narrator who really complements Pratchett’s sense of humor.) In any case, Nation was wonderful. I loved the science and history of science aspect of it, and how it was accessible to young adult readers but not dumbed down. I loved that there were real moral, emotional, and philosophical dilemnas that the characters had to wrestle with, and that they don’t find any easy answers. I loved the characters themselves – particularly Mau, who I now have a bit of a crush on. I loved that the novel managed to be both hilarious in its dry, witty way, as well as heartbreaking, occasionally even at the same time. I loved that Pratchett managed to deal with a lot of thorny issues, like colonialism and atheism, without getting overly moralizing or forcing his point of view about any of them. But what I particularly loved was the sensibility of the book – to quote what I said in my review for Wintersmith, the characters “just generally seem to have their head screwed on right.” It’s a book that values – and encourages – independent thought, both in its characters and in its readers, and I can only wish that more books did the same.

The only thing I didn’t entirely love was the plotting. I was completely enthralled for the first half or so of the book, when it was still very survival-story heavy. (My Side of the Mountain got me hooked on survival stories at a young age and I’ve never fully recovered.) I stayed absorbed during the middle section, but by the last third of the book, when more people begin to show up, I felt like the plot lost a little of its steam. I was still listening intently, mostly wondering how Pratchett could possibly wrap things up satisfactorily (he did, although not at all in the way I was expecting), but the story didn’t feel nearly as urgent as it had in the earlier parts. Still, on the whole, I really enjoyed this book, and suspect it will be one of my top picks for the month, if not for the year. (…and, for those of you who have read it: I have absolutely caught myself muttering “Does Not Happen!” whenever something I’m working on isn’t going my way.) 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: It’s similar in outlook to Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books, obviously, but also I think to Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, although Nation is less preachy and more open-ended than those. I’d recommend Nation to just about everybody, actually, but particularly those who are looking for an excellent young adult novel that can make you laugh and cry and, most importantly, think.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Adventures in Reading, Bart’s Bookshelf, Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog, Book Clutter, Boston Bibliophile, Fluttering Butterflies, In the Shadow of Mt. TBR, Kay’s Bookshelf, Page 247, Reading Rants, Things Mean a Lot, Valentina’s Room, The Wertzone, The Written World, YA Lit: The Good The Bad and The Ugly
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: The snow came down so thickly, it formed fragile snowballs in the air that tumbled and melted as soon as they landed on the horses lined up along the dock.

32 Comments leave one →
  1. April 16, 2010 1:58 am

    I am a fan of Pratchett’s and yet I postponed reading this book for a while because the summary didn’t seem that interesting. However, when I did read it, I have adored it.

    “I loved that there were real moral, emotional, and philosophical dilemnas that the characters had to wrestle with, and that they don’t find any easy answers.” <— this was my favorite part too. I didn't expect a book about castaways to be like that, and I was pleasantly surprised.

    The link to my review, in case you're interested:

    • April 18, 2010 11:28 am

      Kay – Your link’s in the Other Reviews section, thanks!

  2. April 16, 2010 6:11 am

    I think that this is probably his best book of any he has written. Not just his YA stuff.

    I love the fact his YA books have always been ‘intelligent’ as well as entertaining, and this is a great example of how to get both of these things spot on. :)

    • April 18, 2010 11:30 am

      Darren – This and Hat Full of Sky are currently tied for my favorite, although I certainly haven’t read enough of his other work to be able to call them “best of”s. I’ll take your word for it, though. :)

  3. April 16, 2010 8:02 am

    I’ve heard lots of great things about this book, too. Maybe I need to check out the audio version.

    • April 18, 2010 11:30 am

      bermudaonion – Stephen Briggs really does an excellent job with the narration, if you can get your hands on a copy.

  4. April 16, 2010 8:26 am

    I have just read this book too. Yet I got more interested as the book progressed rather than the other way around like you. My only other venture into Terry Pratchett books were the Tiffany Aching ones which I really enjoyed too.

    • April 18, 2010 11:31 am

      vivienne – Different strokes, I guess! I think the survivalist aspect of the first part of the book gave the story an urgency that I really responded to.

  5. April 16, 2010 10:47 am

    It’s giving me hope that you didn’t like Pratchett until the Tiffany Aching books. I started The Wee Free Men last night and am tentatively enjoying it, so hopefully this is the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship for me and Terry P. :)

    • April 18, 2010 11:33 am

      Jenny – I hope you’re still enjoying it! (And if you are, I liked A Hat Full of Sky even better than The Wee Free Men.) If you can find them on audiobook, I really recommend them… Stephen Briggs does such a wonderful job with the Nac Mac Feegle’s accents. Crivens!

  6. April 16, 2010 12:24 pm

    Never tried this author, will add to my list.

    • April 18, 2010 11:33 am

      Nicole – For sure! Nation would be a fine place to start.

  7. April 16, 2010 12:55 pm

    I have this, should probably read it one of these days…

    • April 18, 2010 11:34 am

      Jen – Yes you should! :) It’ll be a quick read, and it’s really good (if that wasn’t obvious already.)

  8. fyrebyrdbooks permalink
    April 16, 2010 6:06 pm

    I have not read any of Terry Pratchett’s books because of my ‘boredom’ of survival books. I’ve read books about peoples’ survival and have found them not books that pop up, say read me again and wow! remember me. But, one of the series that stick out is Gordon Korman’s books I’ve found.

    • April 18, 2010 11:35 am

      fyrebyrd – This is the only one of Terry Pratchett’s books that I’ve read that has any survivalist element at all, so don’t write him off on that account.

  9. April 17, 2010 12:50 am

    I really liked this book when I read it. I am going to try and start reading Discworld in its relative order in the next month or so and see what happens. I really liked Good Omens and the Tiffany books, but haven’t ventured too much more into him than that.

    • April 18, 2010 11:37 am

      Kailana – I tried reading one of the earliest Discworld novels first, and that turned me off, since it was funny enough, but not special enough to make me want to keep going. I’ve heard that they get better as the series goes, though, so bear that in mind…

  10. April 17, 2010 4:35 am

    I’m so glad you loved this :) I’m with Darren, I think this is my absolute favourite of his books. Which is saying a lot :P

    • April 18, 2010 11:38 am

      Nymeth – Okay, so in your opinion as an experienced Pratchett-o-phile, where do I go next?

      • April 18, 2010 3:35 pm

        Okay I know I’m not Ana, but…

        As you’ve liked the Tiffany Aching books and Nation, I’d suggest another of his YA books.The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents.

      • April 21, 2010 9:18 am

        Darren – I’ve actually read The Amazing Maurice, and it was one of the ones that I liked well enough but wasn’t crazy about. I might give it another try now that I’m properly inculcated in the Pratchett-o-phile worldview.

  11. April 17, 2010 8:27 am

    I think the Discworld novels are so varied that it can take a while to find one you really like- for instance, Moving Pictures, while enjoyable, is certainly no Monstrous Regiment! I absolutely adore Good Omens and Prachett’s sense of humor.

    I hadn’t realized Nation was a standalone novel apart from Discworld… I think I’m going to have to check it out…

    • April 18, 2010 11:39 am

      Omni – I’ll admit, I’m a little overwhelmed by the sheer number and variety of Discworld novels.

  12. April 17, 2010 11:54 am

    I’m really glad you liked this. After attempting to read some of the Discworld books and not really getting into them I thought Nation was quite wonderful.

    • April 18, 2010 11:40 am

      Gavin – Have you tried the Tiffany Aching books? They’re technically Discworld books but I thought they had a very similar feel to Nation.

  13. April 17, 2010 9:27 pm

    Pratchett has been recommended to me so many times, but I’ve always put it off. Maybe I should stop and just add it to my wishlist. It makes me wonder, though, which book a newbie should start with.

    • April 18, 2010 11:42 am

      Ann-Kat – Well, given my limited experience with Pratchett, I’d say either Nation or The Wee Free Men would be good choices, since the first is unrelated to the Discworld series, and the second is set in Discworld but works independently just fine. Plus they’re both excellent. :)

  14. April 20, 2010 12:57 pm

    I’ve had this on my shelf for about a year and am embarrassed to say that I haven’t read it yet. I keep hearing how good it is, and I think I’m just waiting until I’m in the right mood.

    • April 21, 2010 9:21 am

      Alyce – Well, I hope the right mood finds you, since I think you’ll enjoy the book when it does. :)


  1. Book Review: “Nation” « The Cheap Reader
  2. Terry Pratchett – Dodger « Fyrefly's Book Blog

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