Terry Pratchett’s Nation is an alternative history novel written for a young adult audience. It is the latter half the nineteenth century and Charles Darwin has recently released his seminal work On the Origin of Species. England’s royal family has been wiped out by influenza; Mr. Black, who describes himself as the “Gentleman of Last Resort,” hires a ship to search for the new heir. Leagues away, Ermintrude “Daphne” Fanshaw—a young lady who is the 138th person in line for the English throne and the daughter of the Governor of the Pelagic Territories—is aboard the Sweet Judy. A tidal wave overcomes Sweet Judy and wrecked it on a beach. Daphne discovers that she is sole survivor on an uncharted island in her father’s territory.
Before her arrival, the island had been home to a vibrant society known as the Nation. Tragically, the same wave that wrecks Sweet Judy kills everyone on the island except Mau. Mau is just returning to the island from a quest. When he left home, he was a boy. Now, upon his return, he will no longer have a boy’s soul. He will be given a man’s soul and taught new things by the grandfathers. However, when Mau returns home, there is no one waiting for him. They are all dead.
At first, Mau blames the gods. The Nation believes that Imo created the world. Imo first created the ocean and then fish. Believing that the fish were stupid and lazy, Imo took some dolphins and from them made people. Then he made land for the people so they would not have to swim all day. Soon the people multiplied and became hungry, so Imo made night and Locaha, the god of death. At this point, Imo realized that the world was flawed. He was about to start over when Locaha intervened. Locaha urged Imo to create his perfect world but also asked Imo to allow the flawed world to remain. Locaha promises turn the dead into dolphins until it is their time to be reborn, but when a person
has become more than the mud from which they were made, who had glorified this mean world by being a part of it, then I will open a door for them into your perfect world.
So Imo went on to create a new world in the sky. For centuries, the Nation has accepted the gods and has tried to keep them nearby using “god stones.” However, now Mau finds himself wondering whether the gods ever existed, and if they did, why they allowed a wave to kill everyone.
Although he has no answer, Mau begins working to restore the Nation. He begins by disposing of the dead. In his head, Mau hears the voices of the grandfathers asking him to do a variety of things, like make them beer, but because Mau was never taught anything upon his return to the island, he cannot continue the traditions of the Nation. Mau compares himself to a hermit crab that has no shell to return to. He wonders who is without the traditions of the Nation.
Mau is in shock and grieving when he first meets Daphne next to her ship, which he considers a giant canoe. The two young adults come from different cultures and speak different languages, so misunderstandings ensue. Daphne is holding a pistol, which Mau has never seen before. Although Daphne pulls the trigger, the wet gunpowder fails to fire. Mau assumes she is offering him a device for making fire, and he takes the pistol to start a fire. Soon they begin exploring each other’s language, though they progress at a slow pace.
The fire Mau starts with Daphne’s pistol attracts other survivors. Ataba, a priest from a nearby island, is the first to arrive. Ataba is shocked by the death of the Nation and that Mau seems to be chief. He believes that Mau has no soul, and he expresses concern that a demon has made its home in Mau’s mind. He calls Mau “Demon Boy” when he hears Mau’s blasphemous thoughts. Ataba arrives with a woman and an infant who is dying for want of milk. Mau may have blasphemous thoughts, but he saves the infant by rolling in squalor to suck milk from a sow and spit it out into a gourd. Soon, Milo and Pilu, who are able to...
(The entire section is 1,584 words.)