By Terry Pratchett
Published by Harper Children’s Audio
Read by Stephen Briggs
Now this is a story I enjoyed so much, I have listened to it several times. I consider it one of Pratchett’s rare science fiction novels although one can also consider it a fantasy. That all depends on how you want to pigeon-hole it.
Actually, this is a story that defies straight-forward categorizations of that sort. If we were reading a science fiction novel written in 1860, this could well be that story. However it was written only five or so years ago even though it seems to take place in 1860. That makes it a fantasy to some.
It is an alternative history of sorts, although it breaks one of the basic tenets of the alternative history genre – there is no single point of divergence from our world that is obvious in the story. Well, there is a sort of magic going on too and while the world of Nation is similar to ours in 1860, it is not quite the same. So… fantasy? Maybe, but it relies on science as it existed in 1860… Like I said, this story defies any single classification. But I do not really care.
I have said it before; a good story is a good story regardless of genre, intended audience and so forth, and this is a good story.
Okay, so it is 1860, and in this alternative world Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species has just been published, just like in our world. A young lady is en route to join her father, the Governor of the Pelagic Territories. Unbeknownst to her, the deadly “Russian Flu” has wiped out most of the Royal Family of Britain, making her father the heir to the throne. Meanwhile a young boy from The Nation, an island in the Great Southern Pelagic Ocean is undertaking the ritual ordeal that on completion will make him a man. And then something goes terribly wrong for both of them; a volcano erupts and created a great tsunami that kills everyone on The Nation and shipwrecks the young lady on that same island.
The story is about the boy and the young lady and the other survivors from nearby islands as the boy attempts to rebuild the life he knew while fighting off threats to that life from all quarters. It is a coming-of-age story both for the boy (Mau) and the young lady, (Ermintrude, who prefers to be called Daphne) and even for The Nation which moves from its own childhood to adulthood under a new leader.
The story has heart. It also has a lot of sound anthropological theory behind it and yet it is told with both serious respect for its subjects and some very funny humor. Most of all, this is a book that while entertaining you will also have you thinking about just what a nation is and what it takes to make one.
Had anyone but Stephen Briggs read this it could never have been as enjoyable to listen to. I’ve said in the past that I have never heard Mister Briggs read badly and this is certainly no exception. His pacing, voices and grasp of Pratchett’s expressive writing simply cannot be matched. I do not think anyone reads Pratchett as well as Stephen Briggs and this is saying something considering his readings have to be compared to those of Nigel Planer, Tony Robinson and others whose readings I have enjoyed immensely. Perhaps it is the subject matter, but I think this was also one of Stephen Briggs’ best readings.
So to summarize: this is a great book and a great audiobook. Lots of fun and thought-provoking besides. This is the sort of story I listen to audio books for. Sure wish there were more of them.