The short: 4.5/5 ✦. The very last Discworld book is bittersweet and partially incomplete, but still full of wonderful Pratchett magic.
I discovered Discworld in college, probably the best time to begin reading such a wild, imaginative, nuanced, fantastical series. In my research prior, there were suggestions of jumping around in the long series, beginning with the best and going back later. I had heeded similar advice for Blackadder (the first series isn’t bad, per se, but certainly different than the later ones), but for books, I couldn’t imagine not starting at the beginning.
The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic were bundled together into one novel, which actually was exciting, as it reminded me of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, another British series I loved, which had been put together into one collection. And while I haven’t gone back to reread Discworld (a bit hard to do when one doesn’t actually own them all), I think I’d still love those two early books as much I love – well, the rest of them! They got me hooked, and I’ve never looked back since.
It wasn’t easy reading them all. My local library only had a couple dozen (weird they had so few, right?), and the library the next city over had even fewer. As I was still in college, I was able to use my school’s library to pick up most of the rest, though I had to go to the exclusive sci-fi collection area there, where you cannot check out any books – after signing a form each time and handing over your ID, you have to sit at one of the desks there, place the requested book on a soft foam stand, and read it very carefully under supervision (yes, even the trade paperbacks!). I read about five or six Discworld books that way, for two hours a day, because that was all the time I had between classes. I think in the end, I did have to finally read one at the bookstore, sneaking in and skimming as fast as I could so as not to look suspicious.
My difficulties with libraries aside, it became, and still is, one of my favorite series. I love Pratchett. I love Discworld. I love Rincewind, Death, Vimes, the Witches – and Tiffany Aching. The Shepherd’s Crown is not only the last Discworld book, it’s the last Tiffany Aching novel, and the last Pratchett book he personally wrote. It’s hard to write about this novel without mentioning all that, because sadly, it is a little . . . off.
As the afterword states, Pratchett wrote in waves, putting down most of the story and then going back to fill in details and revise and refine. So this book has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and everything in between, but it’s not quite finished. There are plot threads that trail off, characters that are not fully developed, and parts that are as wobbly as Shaky Tremble’s hands.
But is it still good? Irrevocably, YES. Pratchett, despite his personal battles, never lost his touch, never lost his magic. It’s still Discworld, it’s still has Tiffany and Ridcully and the Witches and wonderfully barmy side characters. There’s social discourse, groan-inducing puns, and just this great sense of love of Discworld from Pratchett. I don’t believe he knew this would be his last book, but it certainly can be read as such. Many old characters make a return, a couple lingering plot lines are sealed, and it sets up a world that is moving forward into the future.
** SPOILERS **
Not sure how much of this is truly spoilery, since I found out about this way before the book even came out, but I’m marking it just in case!
Granny’s death was terrible in that it was unexpected. She was one of those people who you’d think would just live forever. Her dying sets up the entire novel, and there’s no way that all that took place and the conclusion of Tiffany’s maturity would have occurred without it happening. It makes sense and isn’t cheap by any means (not that it would be), but man . . . I just really wish she hadn’t gone to see Death, even though their scenes are easily the best in the whole book. It could eerily be a conversation between Death and Pratchett himself. Just read this:
“It’s an inconvenience, true enough, and I don’t like it at all, but I know that you do it for everyone, Mister Death. Is there any other way?’
NO, THERE ISN’T, I’M AFRAID. WE ARE ALL FLOATING IN THE WINDS OF TIME. BUT YOUR CANDLE, MISTRESS WEATHERWAX, WILL FLICKER FOR SOME TIME BEFORE IT GOES OUT – A LITTLE REWARD FOR A LIFE WELL LIVED. FOR I CAN SEE THE BALANCE AND YOU HAVE LEFT THE WORLD MUCH BETTER THAN YOU FOUND IT, AND IF YOU ASK ME, said Death, NOBODY COULD DO ANY BETTER THAN THAT . . .”
I can’t imagine that anyone reading that would fail to think the same about Sir Pterry. He certainly did leave the world a better place.
** SPOILERS END **
Even though his last book isn’t perfect, it’s still Pratchett. It’s still Discworld.
It’s still magic.
Header image: The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett, published September 1st 2015 by Harper.