Nation – Terry Pratchett

Yes, it’s the latest from the wonderful Terry Pratchett, and quite unusually, it’s not a Discworld book. This doesn’t really make that much difference – in most of the Discworld books, the Elephants, Turtle, Disc, Magic and assorted non-human people are just background to the real matter of stories about people. And what we have here is a very real story about people.

It’s set in the nineteenth century. Errrr, no. It’s set in a nineteenth century, on an Earth not too far away in the Multiverse from the one we know and, err, know. There’s still a British Empire, though that’s got a bit of a problem as an epidemic has wiped out the Royal Family, and the next in line to the throne is on an island somewhere in the Great Southern Pelagic Ocean, a big bit of water quite similar to our own Pacific Ocean. And because of secret clauses in the ratified version of Magna Carta, the Heir has to be returned to Britain promptly, as they don’t want another Richard the Lionheart[1]. So a ship is sent to collect the Heir.

And in the Pelagic Ocean, a boy is about to become a man. Mau has done the ritual bit of being alone on an island, he’s made his canoe, and he’s returning home to the Nation, where he will be greeted by everyone, and after a few more rituals, will become an adult.

Also in the ocean is another ship. This one contains the daughter of the Heir. Well, nobody there knows that’s who she is yet, what with communications being a bit slow. The daughter is named Ermintrude[2], but she’ll soon change that.

Both Mau and the daughter are caught in The Wave, and nothing will ever be the same again. The Wave sweeps away everyone on Mau’s home island, and throws the daughter’s ship deep into the forest on the island. Mau and the girl who decides that her name should really be Daphne are the only survivors. And so they begin to form a new Nation, as survivors from other islands are drawn to the smoke of their fire.

And in the hands of a lesser writer, that might have been that. You could have a perfectly good adventure story, with maybe a touch of romance along the way. But that wouldn’t be Terry’s style. You do get all that, but you get a lot more besides. Along with a sprinkling of jokes, Nation explores the nature of belief, religion and much more. And there’s a really big secret about the Nation, which I’m not going to reveal.

I loved this book. It’s one of Terry’s best, and that’s saying a lot.

[1] A king known for not spending much time here…
[2] A name which will recall The Magic Roundabout for many readers, I’m sure