10 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: Nation by Terry Pratchett

Title: Nation

Author: Terry Pratchett

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Nation US Nation

Publisher: Harper Collins/Corgi
Publication Date: 2008
Paperback: 432 Pages

Alone on a desert island — everything and everyone he knows and loves has been washed away in a storm — Mau is the last surviving member of his nation. He’s completely alone — or so he thinks until he finds the ghost girl. She has no toes, wears strange lacy trousers like the grandfather bird, and gives him a stick that can make fire.
Daphne, sole survivor of the wreck of the Sweet Judy, almost immediately regrets trying to shoot the native boy. Thank goodness the powder was wet and the gun only produced a spark. She’s certain her father, distant cousin of the Royal family, will come and rescue her but it seems, for now, that all she has for company is the boy and the foul-mouthed ship’s parrot, until other survivors arrive to take refuge on the island. Together, Mau and Daphne discover some remarkable things (including how to milk a pig, and why spitting in beer is a good thing), and start to forge a new nation.

Encompassing themes of death and nationhood, Terry Pratchett’s new novel is, as can be expected, extremely funny, witty and wise. Mau’s ancestors have something to teach us all. Mau just wishes they would shut up about it and let him get on with saving everyone’s lives!

Stand alone or series: Stand alone

How did I get this book: Bought

Format (e- or p-): Print

Why did I read this book: I have been slowly but surely becoming a huge fan of Terry Pratchett. After reading and loving The Wee Free Men, I asked for more recommendations. Nation was one of the books brought up as book that was also extremely political. I had to check it out. I read it last week, when I was on holidays because I wanted a SURE thing after recent reads were so disappointing.



I was forewarned by friends and readers. I have read – and loved – a couple of other books by the author. So it’s not like I didn’t know the odds this would be good but this book? It blew my mind away. In its epilogue, Terry Pratchett says:

Thinking. This book contains some.

And that’s true: this is one of the most think-y books I have ever read. I loved it with every fibre of my being.

Nation is a book of ideas. Its main theme, that of construction and creation: the construction of a home, of a family, of rules, tradition and religion. It is about those building blocks of civilisation itself and of individuals, in a way that is both extremely rational and enormously emotional. Writing that line just now makes me realise how weird that might sound to those who haven’t read the book. Above all it makes me think about how hard it is to pull something like this off and to keep a balance between what drives a story and the story itself without making a book about ideas, a book that is solely about ideas. If that makes any sense at all – I am finding it extremely hard to write this review because how do you describe perfection? Especially when it’s so affecting?

Nation is a book about creation.

It starts with the destruction of everything one of its main characters knows.

There is a small island in the Great Southern Pelagic Ocean in a world very much like ours (but not quite) where young boys go through a ceremony where they shed their boy-souls to gain their man-souls. Mau is on the Boy’s Island and is about to cross over to the main island to become a man when the big wave comes. He survives it but when he goes ashore to his home, to the Nation, he discovers everything he knows and everyone he loves has been washed away. His first action is to build a spear: “Without fire and a spear, you could never hope to be a man, wasn’t that right?”.
But soulless Mau is all alone and nobody answers him.

All alone that is, but for Daphne, a young girl who was aboard the Sweet Judy ship, whose wrecked remains are now part of the Nation. They are different because their background, their language, their traditions are dissimilar. They are equals because they share this tragedy and because they are both thinkers. Together, they work to survive and to create a home for those who slowly start to come to the Nation in search of a haven after unspeakable tragedy.

First comes an old man, a priest who wants things to be kept as they always were and whose unquestioned belief in their Gods remains unshaken. With him, a young sickly woman with a newborn baby who is barely moving and can hardly feed. Everybody’s immediate response is to fall back into the roles they have always known: if the mother cannot feed her baby, the only one who can help is of course, the other female, Daphne. Except Daphne – a young girl raised by a grandmother who believes young ladies should be Proper – doesn’t even know how babies are made. Mau does what must be done in order to keep the baby alive. Hilarity ensues when he milks a wild pig but also: enlightenment for both Daphne and Mau. Women are not born knowing how to care for babies. Things that appear deep seated gender-led knowledge are not. A man’s soul is not created magically because one crosses from one island to another.

So, first comes destruction. Then, deconstruction: little by little, both characters observe this new world and question the old one in search of answers. It is a kind of stripping down to one’s very core in order to understand. But it is a stripping down without letting go of the past completely because the rules are there. So Mau is walking around the island and he hears the Grandfathers’ voices telling him what to do, to follow their traditions, not question their religion, otherwise there is no order. As much as Daphne abhors her grandmother’s voice inside her head telling her to be Quiet and Proper, she keeps listening to it non-stop. Motivation counts too and Mau is angry. He is angry at the Gods and that leads him to question their very existence. Daphne is not moved by religion at all but by Science. There is sympathy and compassion toward other characters and those find their own balance and their own way of surviving.

In a way, a wave came but they are not completely marooned because they have Tradition. But does Tradition serve them at this time of need or is that now an impediment? How important is it to keep going as it “has always been”? Or is this yet another misconception about the world? Slowly: the understanding that those are internalised voices and that questioning is good. To understand the HOW is all the more important: history becomes religion becomes tradition becomes internal rules living inside one’s head.

Then, forging and building. Mau and Daphne build themselves up and their thoughts are the roots on which they build a new Nation. And they do that by means of Scientific Method.

And that is accomplished in a story that is moving, sad, hopeful and funny. Mau and Daphne have hilarious misunderstandings before they lean to communicate. Their community is built and deep connections are formed between people. A new Nation is born out of the old and people still have parties, drink beer, laugh, love, pray and look at the sky.

Also: parallel universes.

I don’t know how my reading of this particular book has been affected by the fact that I am new to Terry Pratchett’s main oeuvre but this to me, was simply wonderful. Interestingly enough, limited as my Terry Pratchett experience might be, I found Nation to be slightly different in tone (not as funny) to the other books I have read from the author but exactly the same in how smart it is.

Nation is a rich and intricate novel. Yes ,it does have an obvious message about the power and importance of thinking, but this never overwhelms the characters or the story. I understood this very well when I started crying when the book was over. Plus, the epilogue is a wonderful gift from an author who truly understands his readers.

This book spoke to me in a deeply personal level and I can’t recommend it enough.

Notable Quotes/Parts:

“That’s what the gods are! An answer that will do! Because there’s food to be caught and babies to be born and life to be lived and so there is no time for big, complicated, and worrying answers! Please give us a simple answer, so that we don’t have to think, because if we think, we might find answers that don’t fit the way we want the world to be.”

“They didn’t know why these things were funny. Sometimes you laugh because you’ve got no more room for crying. Sometimes you laugh because table manners on a beach are funny. And sometimes you laugh because you’re alive, when you really shouldn’t be.”

Rating: 10 – Fantastic

Reading Next: Doll Bones by Holly Black

Buy the Book:

(click on the links to purchase)

Ebook available for kindle UK & iBookstore


  • Bookgazing
    May 14, 2013 at 11:51 am

    😀 Now you know.

  • Ana
    May 14, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    Yes, now I do 🙂

  • Foz Meadows
    May 14, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    I’m so glad you liked this one. I’ve only read it the once, but my reaction was much the same as yours, and one day soon I’ll go back to it again.

    My favourite line from it – or at least, the line that struck me most powerfully – is one I can’t quite remember verbatim, but it’s when Mau is struggling to deal with the priest, and he just wants to yell at him about how his gods aren’t real, but then he thinks something like, ‘But words are spears, and you don’t throw spears at the old, the weak, the dying.’ It’s an incredibly powerful thought.

  • Eliza
    May 14, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    YAY!! Welcome to the legion of Terry Pratchett fans, Ana. I think you’re hooked now.

    This book is so wonderful and continues to be so upon multiple readings (or listenings). I re-listened to this in Feb, right after recommending it to you, and fell in love with it all over again.

    I love how it discusses religion, tradition, colonialism, how tragedy brings out both the best and worst in people, the need for tradition to help rebuild and hold an group of people together in the face of overwhelming loss but also the need for flexibility and change within that tradition. So many wonderful ideas explored but with so much heart. I don’t know about you, but this felt like such a deeply personal book. It was as if Terry Pratchett was exploring his own thoughts about the above issues, especially religion and colonialism. Issues he explores in his Discworld books but not at such a heartfelt level. There is so much warmth and soul here. However, they do not interfere with his razor observations but, in fact, seem to lend these observations and ideas more weight.

    I also think having witnessed, albeit from afar, the devastation of the 20004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, we’re better able to comprehend the total destruction wrought by the one in this book.

    I love how the voice in this book is so different than the Discworld books. This is not part of the Discworld and the tone makes that clear. There is Sir Terry’s trademark social commentary, humor, and wit but pitched differently.

    The scene where Mau is sending all of his village, everyone he’s ever known, off into the ocean is so beautiful and heartbreaking. It makes me break down every time. (You must have been a mess if you were reading this on the plane.)

    The ending is so perfect – both the end of the story and the epilogue. I’m not normally a fan of epilogues because so many authors get the wrong (cough*SuzanneCollins*cough) but this one, as you said, was a gift to the reader. It allows you to close the book with a sigh of the pure satisfaction of having read a perfectly told tale.

    Daphne is fabulous but it’s Mau who grabbed a hold of my heart and hasn’t let go in all the years since I first read this book.

    There will be no unhappy memories. No more words. We know them all. All the words that must not be said. But you have made my world more perfect.

  • MarlaWolfblade
    May 14, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    Eliza, I agree about it being a very peraonal book to Terry. I’ve often thought it’s kind of an allegory for his own Alzheimers. He’s trying to rebuild the things that he’s lost. I could be wrong though.

  • Joanna
    May 14, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    I’m so glad that you loved it, it’s such a powerful novel, even for Terry Pratchett standards.
    Re: the difference in tone – actually, I think if you ever read Discworld in chronological order, you’ll find that Nation is consistent with Pratchett’s later, more sober novels whose main focus lies in sociopolitical issues such as racism, colonialism/cultural appropriation, gender or religion vs human decency. Night Watch in particular is devastating…

  • Nathan
    May 14, 2013 at 10:47 pm

    Joyful! There is always a bit of validation when other people seem to like your favorite author as much as you do. Need to add this book to my reread pile I think.

  • Kendra
    May 15, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    Wow! I put this book down a couple chapters in when I started it last year, looks like I’ll be giving it another try!

  • Linda W
    May 15, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    Terry Pratchett is pretty much “da man” in my house. Love all of his books. I’m glad you loved it.

  • Stephanie
    May 15, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    Nation is one of my very favorite books. I did teach it as a small group novel, but the kids were “blah” on it. When it was over they liked it, but told me it was slow for them. I loved how it challenged my own thinking. I read this shortly after the Indonesian tsunami in 2004 — so the images were fresh in my mind and powerful.

  • Pamela
    May 17, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    I read this for an adolescent lit course in grad school, and I felt the same way you did, Ana. It was so brilliantly written and thought-provoking in a way that I’d found to smaller degrees in Pratchett’s other novels (Small Gods in his Discworld series in particular is very thinky). Now I want to dig out my copy and read it again. 🙂

  • christina
    June 6, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    I am relieved that others think so highly of this book as well, your review was touching and echoed my sentiments about it exactly. I am a long time Terry Pratchett fan but with this book he managed to blow me away yet again. So it’s probably not because of your new-ness to his style that you felt it so overwhelmingly. That book is AMAZING. I recommend whenever I can because I want others to be moved by it like I was.

  • PratchettFan
    July 29, 2013 at 10:20 am

    Please read Small Gods next. That is my favourite think-y Pratchett work. It has the best ending ever. Or Good Omens but that combines think-y with slapstick which may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

  • Alison Weathers
    September 16, 2013 at 12:48 am

    THIS. Everything you said. I cry every time I read Nation over again, and I’ve read it over and over every year since it came out. It’s so real, so strong, so WISE. I think people will still be reading Nation in 100 years and after that too.

  • Amanda
    March 12, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    Yep, this was an incredible book. I can’t wait to share it with my kids!

  • chloe
    January 25, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    are you crazy??? this book is so boring and dumb!!! this is the most worse book i have ever read

  • Linda
    June 16, 2016 at 8:42 am

    Is this appropriate for ages 10-13? middle schoolers

  • bob
    August 22, 2016 at 7:26 pm

    cool book

  • bob
    August 22, 2016 at 7:32 pm

    nice review!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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