Monday, 21 September 2015
The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett Review
I discovered Discworld at age 11. I read the Rincewind novel, Sourcery (Discworld #5), first and read the rest of the series out of sequence, picking up whichever second hand paperback was available at this small, hidden bookshop that no longer exists (it’s now a butcher’s). I used to read entire Pratchett novels in a day and burned through the series in no time. I was a Discworld fanatic.
My love of the series continued through high school and into my 20s, though something had changed at the turn of the century: Terry Pratchett had become respectable. He’d implemented chapters in his books AND begun writing Young Adult AND won a literary award – all things he’d never done before. The change began with The Amazing Maurice, which was anything but an amazing read. Still, Night Watch came out a year later, possibly the darkest Discworld book and a superb novel, and I thought things were back to normal.
Discworld is a series divided into characters: Rincewind, The Witches, The City Watch, and Death all had recurring stories, even Moist von Lipwig had a couple of books, with the rest of the numbers being made up with occasional one-offs. Then, following Night Watch, came the worst addition to the Discworld ever: the Nac Mac Feegles (6 inch tall blue Scottish warriors) in their first YA book, The Wee Free Men. Along with them came Tiffany Aching, a teenage witch who would become Granny Weatherwax’s apprentice.
Pratchett, it seemed, had become quite smitten with YA fiction (maybe because of the Carnegie Medal for The Amazing Maurice?) and several Tiffany Aching/Nac Mac Feegle books appeared along with a standalone novel, Nation – all terrible! I still read the “grown-up” Discworld novels but, apart from Unseen Academicals, a gem which came out of nowhere, their quality was dipping and dipping.
I’ve tried twice to read Snuff and haven’t made it more than a third of the way through; I skipped I Shall Wear Midnight entirely (yet another Tiffany Aching novel) and I didn’t even crack the spine of Raising Steam. The quality issue was understandable – Pratchett was diagnosed with a rare form of Alzheimer’s in 2007 – but I realised, sadly, Discworld was no longer for me.
And then Pratchett succumbed to his illness early this year followed by news that The Shepherd’s Crown was to be the last “official” Discworld novel (it’s rumoured his daughter Rhiannon will be continuing the series). Even though it’s a Tiffany Aching/Nac Mac Feegle book, I felt like I had to read the last Discworld book – I had to be there at the end of this place I used to love.
I so wish I could say this was a brilliant finale - really I would - but, sadly, The Shepherd’s Crown is as boring and unfunny as the other books in the Tiffany Aching/Nac Mac Feegle series and a poor addendum, not just to one of Discworld’s oldest and most beloved characters, but to Pratchett’s series as a whole.
“Something” happens to a major character – I won’t spoil anything in this review – very early on in the book before things shift back to Tiffany and her burgeoning career as a witch of The Chalk. But evil is stirring in the other realm as the Elves decide to reassert their power over the humans – the witches must unite to stop the invasion!
Unfortunately the novel peaks in the first 20% or so of the book where we see the touching end of said major character. From then on there’s hardly anything worth mentioning. The Elves talk big but don’t really do anything until the forces of good are assembled and organised enough to fight them, so that’s a tension-less storyline!
Discworld witches are sort of like country doctors and Tiffany spends most of her time zooming from farmhouse to farmhouse birthing babies, healing wounds, looking after sick animals, etc. Maybe if you’re an AJ Cronin fan you’ll love this, but chances are you’re thinking AJ who?! and the idea of reading about a healer healing is as uninteresting as you’d expect it to be – and this is the bulk of the book.
What I’ll generously call the “humour” is the Nac Mac Feegle calling Tiffany their “big wee hag” and the repeated mention of a goat who can use the privy. That’s it - a far cry from the comedy gold of earlier Discworld books.
Once again Pratchett’s banging the drum of social inclusivity and progressiveness, which is fine and I’m all for that, but he’s been doing that for years now and it’s no longer exciting to see happening in Discworld.
I’m glad I read the last Discworld book if only for closure but I’m disappointed at how bad it was. I think a better way to honour his memory is to read one of Pratchett’s great Discworld novels like Mort, Interesting Times, Guards! Guards!, or Wyrd Sisters, or, maybe for me, just be thankful that he provided so many hours of entertainment when I was a younger, different person. After all, maybe kids today love the Tiffany Aching books and if I was 11 again and picking these up, I’d be all about them? Maybe the Feegles’ cartoonish Scottish and incredibly irritating blather is hysterical to some readers?
I would’ve loved it if the final Discworld novel had nothing to do with Tiffany or the Feegles and was instead an epic team-up between Rincewind, Death, the Witches, and the City Watch to gather several far-flung ingredients spread out across the Disc in a race against time to save the life of a softly spoken elderly gentleman - the Creator - who was dying of a terrible sickness that was simultaneously “forgetting”/wiping out the world around them. Ah, well. I suppose the events at the start felt appropriately gloomy enough for a last book. My idea's probably a bit too egotistical/hits too close to home anyway.
All that said, it’s remarkable he was still able to produce books right to the end given how advanced his illness became.
Gods bless, Sir Terry.
The Shepherd's Crown