The Short Version: Changes are coming to the Disc. Trains crisscross the land, goblins are respectable (or at least respectable enough), and Granny Weatherwax’s time has come. It’s up to Tiffany Aching to fill her shoes – and to do so before a deadly threat returns to the world…
The Review: Clichéd as it has maybe already become, I couldn’t help but think of Chris Jackson singing, “We’re gonna teach ’em how to say goodbye” in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s brilliant Hamilton while I was reading this final Discworld novel. Sir Terry, it seems, knew that his time was come – or at least that it drew far too near – and so this book provides more of a conclusion of sorts than I think anybody ever expected this series to have.
It does so in some of the kindest, most loving prose ever put to paper, in Chapter Two – a chapter with such emotional impact that I had to rush off the train at a stop that was not mine in order to sit down alone for a minute and have a good cry. For, you see, Granny Weatherwax has passed. And her eulogy and tribute – Death at perhaps his most sorrowful, the small moments of characters far and wide as they realize she has passed – is impossible not to read as Pratchett’s creations saying goodbye to their creator. I don’t know that you can pick a single greatest character from these 41 books, but I do know that any self-respecting top three includes Granny Weatherwax and Death – and their encounter, a true encounter after all this time, is pure. It is the sort of writing that almost shouldn’t be possible, because it is so wonderful.
I wrote, in my review of the last Discworld book (Raising Steam) that I felt Sir Terry’s focus starting to slip. The ’embuggerance’ had become noticeable and I worried about the potential decline in quality, as his abilities seemed to struggle to keep pace with his imagination in that book. And who is to say what could’ve happened in Twilight Canyons or The Dark Incontinent or a second Amazing Maurice novel – these pieces of unfinished (and, if statements hold, forever locked away) new Discworld books could’ve been wonderful, they could’ve been dodgy. But I do know that I’m happy Sir Terry went out on a wonderful note – for The Shepherd’s Crown is wonderful.
Perhaps it has something to do with the relative simplicity of the “young readers” bent to the book – although Tiffany Aching has certainly outgrown that early categorization, both literally and figuratively. (I just want to add: I’m not sure that any Pratchett book can be considered exclusively for any one segment of readers – he is a man for all seasons.) But there’s a lightness here, a simplicity of sorts, that seems to keep things relatively uncluttered. There are a few moments of over-simple, spots where one has to imagine the author might’ve tweaked or spun further had he had the chance (and his assistant, Rob Wilkins, says essentially as much in the afterword) – but they do not take away from the novel. This is not, as with some posthumous releases, an unfinished work – by any means. They simply leave the reader… well, wanting more.
It has been a great joy to see Pratchett’s world evolve, especially over the last fifteen or so years (the time, give or take, that I’ve been reading them as they’ve been released). It was 1999 or 2000 when The Fifth Elephant was released and the “clacks” – the Disc’s telegraph equivalent – was introduced and since then, technology has slowly but surely come to a world of magic. A printing press, a central bank, a railroad… and meanwhile, social issues like immigration, the Koom Valley Accords (a peace treaty between troll and dwarf populations), the police force, gender identity, and more have had their day in the sun as well. Sir Terry, in the best of ways, imagined a better world for us through his novels. Discworld is a place so far removed from our own that it actually looks startlingly similar, you know?
With the evolution of his world, so too have certain characters evolved. Granny Weatherwax was always kind of an oddity of sorts – she never seemed to change – but Sam Vimes, Tiffany Aching, even Death himself have all grown and changed throughout the series. Vimes is perhaps my favorite character (he’s the third in that aforementioned top three, by the way. The Patrician and Rincewind are probably the ones to round out my top five, although……… well, for another time) in this regard, but Tiffany’s arc has seemed much more obvious and preconceived. Since she was a little girl, she’s been positioned to take over from Granny Weatherwax – because how could she not? – but the force of that decision coming down, the wallop of Granny’s death and her void, hits Tiffany just as hard as it hits us. And I was so happy that was true. Similarly, her decisions show the residual life that’s been sculpted by her creator and I am at the edge of tears again, thinking how we’ll never get to see what she does next. Nor Sam Vimes, nor the faculty of the Unseen University, nor Moist von Lipwig…
But one last fight against the elves? A quick moment with many of our old friends? The Disc spins on, friends, and the Great A’Tuin swims through space and that knowledge will have to be enough. Plus, there’s 41 books lining our shelves and maybe, just maybe, we can live through them all over again.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
I miss you, Sir Terry. Thank you for everything.