Doubleday, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
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Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
erry Pratchett, well known for his hugely popular
fantasies, applies the same satirical pen to his YA books, including his Johnny Maxwell trilogy and the marvellous tales of Tiffany Aching and her
Wee Free Men
. Now, in
, he gives readers young and old a long - and highly entertaining - paean to critical thinking. The story is set in an alternate world whose seas are dominated by the British Empire and which seems to be in a somewhat Victorian era.
t all begins with a Great Southern Pelagic Ocean islanders' myth about the creation of the universe, explaining why the People '
are born in water, and do not kill dolphins, and look toward the stars.
' Then two catastrophes propel a young hero and heroine into adventure. The first is a terrible plague that decimates the population of England, killing off the king and most of the line of succession. A remote cousin (139th in line to the throne), serving as Governor to Port Mercia, is now the monarch. The
Gentlemen of Last Resort
commandeer a ship, the
, and sail off to locate said heir and his daughter Ermintrude, our heroine, who is herself voyaging on the
to join her father.
devastating tsunami lifts the
and deposits it - with Ermintrude the only survivor - on the floor of an island rainforest. At the same time, Mau (our hero) is the only one of the island's inhabitants left alive - because he wasn't there at the time of the disaster but was paddling home from the Boys' Island where he'd been sent to become a man. Mau takes on the responsibility of rebuilding his Nation, constantly harrassed by irritating ancestral voices telling him what to do. After burying the remnants of his people in the traditional manner - at sea, so that they can become dolphins - Mau believes that he is alone on the island until he encounters the trouserman
(who hates her name and decides to call herself Daphne).
s the two gradually learn to communicate - often to their mutual bewilderment - shocked survivors from other islands trickle in to join them. Mau (the obvious and acknowledged leader from the beginning despite his youth) saves Daphne's life, rescues others, and even manages to feed a newborn by milking a wild pig. He copes with each new crisis with a defiant refrain of '
Does not happen!
', not on his watch anyway - he '
tries to carry the world on his back!
' And Daphne surprises herself by finding the inner resouces to deal with all kinds of unexpected things in this new life, from beer making, assisting in childbirth, and battlefield surgery, to bringing Mau back from the
ut it's not just a castaways-rebuilding story. Mau persistently works to find out the truth about his ancestors and their beliefs (including archeological sequences reminiscent of an
episode), in between attacks from mutineers and the fearsome cannibal
. Mau and Daphne deal with all of it, even with the
Gentlemen of Last Resort
when they too show up. Continuing the theme of critical thinking, at the end a wise old man tells two young people about discovery: '
There is no better medicine than finding out you are wrong!
' It's hard to ever go wrong in reading a Terry Pratchett story and
is a witty, entertaining treat, not to be missed by young or old -
does not happen!
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