My last review of Wyrd & Wonder will be a bittersweet one.
I mentioned in my Desert Island Reads that I’d never read the last Discworld as leaving one unstarted was a little act of homage to Sir Pterry, a little bit of sadness. Well, sentiment more than has a place in life, but sooner or late the right sentiment is getting on with things. And since I’d talked about it, I decided now was as good a time as any. Pride of place in a celebration of the genre.
The Shepherd’s Crown is a Tiffany Aching book, one of his YA novels about the young witch of the chalk. Here she’s an adult, more or less, taking on more work than most for not only does she have two places to look after, she has elves. Vicious, terrifying, glamourous elves.
The story itself is charming and simple, getting lost in the long grass of Pratchett talking about what witchcraft – and caring for people – is. A lot of the wrangling, sniping, and downright orneriness that characterised Discworld protagonists in the past is gone. There’s a few hot exchanges, but only a few. It’s mostly Tiffany doing her best, surrounded by a few others doing it too. There’s something soothing about it.
There’s something of the farewell tour to it too. It’s hard to know what’s reader projection and what’s author intention, for Pratchett kept writing at a furious pace as his Alzheimers progressed and the afterword reveals snippets of other possible Discworlds he was working on, but it feels that way. There’s a major death, there’s a lot of characters swinging by for a scene or two, a lot of mention made of the Discworld’s history. I guess I don’t know what Sir Pterry intended, but I know what it’s not a stretch to see it as. And in a way, that’s soothing too.
Truth told, I’m not sure The Shepherd’s Crown is more than soothing. I never cared much for his lurch towards the Industrial Revolution, a period when people sounded quite funny and that I generally read fantasy to get away from. At times he seemed to be trying to build up characters’ and groups’ stature too high, to the point where it didn’t quite work. The Shepherd’s Crown has bits of both. It’s lacking the sharp dynamics and subtle themes that made me love Discworld so much; the themes of progress and service towards humanity aren’t subtle, the dynamics as mentioned lack the antagonistic edge that drove so much of the series.
And yet it doesn’t matter too much. Finishing this book, I feel like I gained something and lost something, probably because that’s how it went with Tiffany herself. I share her joy and sorrow like a friend would. It would be impossible to say what Pratchett meant to me and manage a readable review (there is a companion essay here) but he made magic.
Here, in his last book, he made it again.