by Terry Pratchett
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
It has been 12 years since Terry Pratchett published a non-Discworld novel, Johnny and the Bomb. Pratchett has once again left his flattened creation to create a new world in Nation, the story of Mau, a young islander who must deal with the aftermath of a massive tidal wave.
Mau becomes the last survivor of Nation, when he is on another island undergoing a rite of passage. When his island is swamped by a tidal wave, he returns home to discover the destruction of all he knew. He attempts to live the life he has always known, despite its impossibility, although as the days go by, refugees from other nearby islands begin to arrive, first and foremost a young British girl who has survived a shipwreck.
The shipwreck survivor, Daphne aka Ermintrude, finds herself in a new, and undesired position, as she is in a time and place that none of her training for the English peerage prepared her for. All of the advice that her grandmother has given her is suddenly for naught, although she is fortunate in having a father who indulged her definitely unfeminine (for the time) interests.
Many of the themes of personal responsibility, rather than allegiance to a deity or a belief system, that have permeated so much of Pratchett’s recent writing appears in the character of Mau. The loss of Nation causes him to have a crisis of faith, made worse by the lack of any sort of guide except for the elderly Ataba, one of the first survivors to appear on Nation. The two characters quickly fall into a complex relationship which is both supportive and in conflict. There is a certain, although by no means complete, amount of respect between the two.
Nation includes half a framing technique. Near the end of the story, Pratchett suddenly introduces a narrator, who has been telling the story, apparently, to two young children. Prior to their introduction in the final chapter, there is no indication that the novel was anything other than an account of what was happening, when it was happening, and this final chapter, or epilogue even, isn’t really necessary, although it doesn’t detract from the novel, either.
The humor in Nation exists, but is not as successful as in most of Pratchett’s novels. This may be caused by the dire situation in which Mau and Daphne find themselves, or it may simply be that the characters and setting don’t lend themselves as well to the type of humor Pratchett normally writes. There are moments of humor, but they are more rare than the reader will likely expect, and that is one of the problems.Readers who approach the novel expecting a typical Pratchett outing may find themselves disappointed. However, Pratchett covers many of his traditional themes in this setting and Nation has strong characterizations. In many ways, Nation demonstrates Pratchett’s strength as a writer for the very reason that he doesn’t have his traditional setting, or his humor, to fall back on. Instead, Nation is a completely original work.
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