Mau is going through his nation's ritual to become a man, but when he sails back from Boy Island, he discovers that the entire village and nation have been wiped out by a giant wave. Also there is the shipwrecked Daphne, who finds that all her training to be a British lady has taught her absolutely nothing useful. Soon, more survivors of the tsunami come to the island, and Mau finds himself chief, even though he's not even a man by his nation's standards.
Despite my classification, this is only nominally fantasy, in that it seems to be a slightly alternate version of our world in the 1800s. And there may or may not be dead ancestors and gods talking to Mau. And despite the book being published as YA, it's rather dark at points, given the demise of everyone Mau knows. Pratchett handles it very well; there's a constant reminder of what Mau has lost without dwelling on it too much, and the touches of humor felt like Mau and Daphne trying to make sense of their new world and didn't contrast too much with the darker tone of the book.
The thing about rebuilding/building civilization isn't as much of a draw for me as it is for some others, especially since I was wary about the racial politics. But Pratchett does a good job of not making the nation into something primitive, and he effectively contrasts the more "exotic" practices of the nation with those of white Britain, which look equally impractical and constructed. I do think the rhetoric of colonialism and imperialism wasn't taken apart as much as I wanted, but I'm also unsure of how Pratchett might have done that in a YA book without making it All About Colonialism.
Still, it's uncomfortably there in the background, and it made me very uncomfortable when Mau was doing a lot of things for Daphne (the "native" man/white woman dichotomy). That disappeared pretty quickly, though, and I very much liked that while Daphne poked fun or didn't understand some traditions of the nation, she actually adapted them very well.
I also love the twist that comes near the end.
And I really liked the ending, which felt real to me.
I know other people have read this; send me links if you have write-ups!
- gwyneira's review
- kate_nepveu's review
ETA: some spoilers in comments, mostly ROT13'ed, but some not!