Mind how you go. - Terry PratchettThis was a really hard book to read. Not because it was bad, or because I didn't want to read it. It was hard because for over twenty years I've been either reading a new Discworld novel or looking forward to the next one. And now that's over. Today's book is Terry Pratchett's 41st and last novel of Discworld, The Shepherd's Crown.
I've been a huge fan of the Discworld for the majority of my life, ever since a friend handed me a copy of Guards! Guards! and told me I should read it. Terry Pratchett was on the very short list of authors whose books I always bought on the day of release, sight unseen. I have long been of the opinion that the worst of Pratchett's works is still well above the average and entirely worth the reading.
The Shepherd's Crown is not Pratchett at his height. How could it be, when he was no longer capable of writing and had to rely on an assistant to put his words to paper? Some transitions are a bit rough, some scenes don't quite seem to fit. But the overall story is strong and moving, and the scenes that really matter are deftly written. I was in tears almost immediately on starting the second chapter and by the end I was sobbing. I can't recommend The Shepherd's Crown to new readers, it's both not Pratchett's best and very reliant on what's come before, but for those already invested it's a good and appropriate ending to one of the longest running fantasy series in history.
MASSIVE SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ON
Although it was the third Discworld novel, an argument can be made that Equal Rites was where Discworld truly began. It's where Pratchett shifted from parody to satire, and it's where he really found the tone and feel that he would retain for the remainder of the series. Equal Rites was a story about a girl who wanted to be a wizard; and it was the first book to feature possibly Pratchett's greatest character, Granny Weatherwax. Fitting then, that The Shepherd's Crown introduces a boy who wants to be a witch, and has us say goodbye to Granny.
In the second chapter, Granny Weatherwax dies.
It's something I've been half expecting for a while now; the obvious final challenge in Tiffany Aching's career, the loss of her mentor. Chapter two is probably the best (and simultaneously most heart-breaking) chapter of the entire book as we follow Granny making all the preparations for her passing (witches and wizards get to know when they're going to die a little early so they can be ready).
Granny's death is what sets the rest of the book in motion, with Tiffany having to deal with suddenly being Granny's chosen successor (witches don't go in for leaders, but Granny was the witch they looked too to not lead them.) Also, with Granny gone, the elves (nasty pieces of work indeed) see the opportunity to make another attempt to break through from their parasite dimension and have free reign on the Disc.
Mostly this is a book about things changing. Steam engines and locomotives have come to the Disc, and technology continues to advance. The elves are remnants of the old times, and they no longer have any place there. It's telling that the ultimate fight against the elves is very one-sided; they never stand a chance. Their time is done. New ideas are embraced and Tiffany realizes that she can never be Granny Weatherwax, but she shouldn't try. She has to be Tiffany Aching.
Like Granny Weatherwax, the Discworld is dead. We'll never see another book, and we'll never know where Pratchett might have taken it next. But also like Granny, the Discworld isn't gone. It's memory stays with us through our fandom, through the books and through the adaptations to screen and stage. Terry Pratchett is dead, but he remains with us through his writing and the lessons he's taught us over the years. Farewell once more, Sir Pterry. Mind how you go.