Friday, January 23, 2009

In what Pratchett carefully explains in an afterword is a parallel universe, a giant wave washes over miles of ocean and thousands of small islands, killing thousands of people and destroying entire villages. Young Mau is the only one left on his substantial island, called the Nation, but he is soon joined by the only human survivor of a shipwreck – a teenaged girl named Daphne who happens to be 138th in line to the throne of her England-like country – and a growing trickle of survivors from other islands near and far. Not only must they all learn how to live together, but they must also prepare for an invasion by a dreaded tribe of cannibals.

Pratchett’s tone in this book is different from the sometimes arch, tongue-in-cheek style of his Discworld books – there is something that I think can be called tenderness in his affectionate depiction of Mau, who is a most fascinating and complicated character. Mau is a consummate control freak who feels he must be hyper-vigilant at all times or his entire world, already tenuous, will fall apart around him. His fierce cry of “Does not happen!” is emblematic of this. (I’m going to try shrieking this at my family the next time they come between me and my vision of a happy family by squabbling like crazed weasels at the dinner table.) Mau is eventually able to accept (grudgingly) the hideous thing that has happened to his world and to move beyond it to a more endurable relationship with the gods (if they exist, that is), his ancestors (why must they keep nagging him?), and himself.

Daphne never did relish her old life, with the shackles it placed on young, smart females like herself, and she reinvents herself with some initial trepidation but much eventual success and gusto. Her common sense and her knowledge of the world beyond the island provide Mau with both a firm grounding and vision of vast possibilities.

Humor, insight, and plenty of action don’t always come together in one book successfully – Pratchett remains a master. Highly recommended for grades 6 and up.

1 comment:

  1. This was one of the books I gave as a Christmas present this year! Enjoyable on so many levels.