by Terry Pratchett
Cover Artist: Bill Mayer
Review by Paul Haggerty
HarperCollins Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780061433016
Date: 01 October 2008 List Price $16.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Mau was a boy, sent to the Boy's Island to prove himself worthy before returning to the Gods Island where he would be inducted as a man of the Nation. But while he was somewhere on the seas, between childhood and manhood, the Nation was swept away by a great wave. His boyhood was left behind, but the rites of manhood were not performed, leaving him trapped somewhere in between.
Daphne Fanshaw was being sent to join her father in a place of safety when her ship was caught by the wave and deposited far ashore on the God's Island. As a proper young lady, her knowledge of survival on tropical islands is a bit limited. Fortunately, her manners are impeccable.
Nation is a stand-alone, non-Discworld novel. It's not a comedy per se, but that doesn't mean that it lacks in humor. Any book with tree climbing octopi and sailfin crocs can't be all serious. But the humor is used to leaven what is, at heart, the serious tale of taking the shattered remnants of the past and trying to forge them into a new future. Mau knows how to survive, but he lacks the final rituals that are only taught to the men, and being male, knows almost nothing of the mysterious lore of the women. Daphne is a young lady with a proper British upbringing. Which means she knows nothing about surviving in the world, but everything everything about what napkins to use when serving tea. Fortunately she has a good heart and a stout mind, neglected as it has been by her society. Together, and with all the various people that arrive like flotsam and jetsam from dozens of other island tribes, they're going to need to build a new Nation if any of them are going to survive. Because, unfortunately, not all the survivors are interested in building, when it's so much easier to take.
Nation is a novel of exploration, not of territory, but of concepts. From the Cave of the Grandfathers, to the God Anchors, Mau's people have an ancient culture, which has been passed down from generation to generation. And just because the lore is in the form of rituals, does not mean that they don't serve a critically important purpose. Make the beer correctly, and all is well. Make one mistake, and it's a deadly poison. That's the kind of thing you really want to make sure gets passed on without any errors. The rest might be more obscure … why do the gods even need anchors? But that doesn't mean failure will be any less deadly. Because despite all our knowledge of "how things happened", reality doesn't care about our theories, especially when it's holding some of the proof in secret.
So come met good people, bad people, and indifferent people. People that want to save the world, destroy the world, and those that want to make sure it never changes at all. It is the story of two teenagers growing up, and the story of the world learning that everything it believed in is wrong. It's a story set in an alternate universe where everything is different from the world we know, but we all know that's an illusion. After all, it's a story of people trying to make the right decisions, and either benefiting from, or suffering when they're wrong. And how's that really any different than the here and now.