29 October 2015

Books: The Shepherd's Crown By Terry Pratchett (2015)

For me, while The Shepherd’s Crown will be the last new Terry Pratchett to be published, I still have a bunch of his novels to go through. Perhaps I’ll never finish them, only time and tide will dictate that. But I will try to get through as many as I can before I too shuttle off this coil. 

But with this book, published six months after his death this past March, the last Discworld novel, fifth and last Tiffany Aching novel brings to an end a large chapter of a long series of novels in which Pratchett, under the guise of fantasy, took on human foibles. 

But this last book, in which it seems its creator might’ve known this would he last before the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease finally overtook him (the disease took a relatively rare form that affected his sight and coordination rather than his memory), fills the story with death and life. There is much darkness here, yet Pratchett left us with some hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

He also, through the death of long-time character Granny Weatherwax, gives readers and fans, long and new, young and old, a guide on how we shall process his passing. If there is a “good” part to knowing your time is short, it enables that person a way to prepare those that are left behind. Here, in 41st and final Discworld novel, Granny (like all witches and wizards) has anticipated her death, and quietly and calmly goes about the business of preparing for the time. She makes her own casket, she selects where she wants to be buried, and then cleans her home, leaving instructions to the one who will now take over it. And when she meets Death, it’s done in such a charming, heartfelt way, as a reader, you’ll feel that Terry Pratchett was telling you that life must go on and (thanks to many things about publishing) will always be near. 

Also, the story is somewhat disjointed, a bit blunt, and simple. It features the return of the Queen of the Elves from the first Tiffany Aching novel (Wee Free Men), who has regained her power and has discovered the rift between the Land of Elves and Discworld has grown thin. But before she can hatch her revenge plan, an upstart goblin (whom she though humans hated) who has learned iron can hurt the elves, has dethroned her and tossed her onto Chalk where she must survive. Taken in by Tiffany, who distrusts her (along with the Nac Mac Feegl), but knows that she can make Nightshade understand that humans, witches, goblins, and wizards can live together.  So an alliance of sorts is hemmed, as Tiffany (already overburdened with taking care of a lot of people, as well as training a new apprentice {a boy who wants to be a witch} along with being the heir to Granny Weatherwax’s home and people) must prepare for a fairy horde that is about to invade Chalk. Her land.

In the Afterword at the end, we are told that while Pratchett did finish the book, he was unable to go over it again, to add or subtract new plot points -it reads like a first draft. This is fairly evident throughout the story, as it seems to missing the tangents he would often go on. The action is fast paced and some characters get lost in the crowd, so to speak. I mean, one of the great things that made these novels work, for new readers especially, was the ability to start almost anywhere, despite the books building one upon the other. Here, Pratchett makes several direct references to past novels, including the trains that were part of the last book, Raising Steam (which seems to me a bit of analogy about change, not only in the Discworld, but the real one as well). It’s as if he knew this would be the last book and was trying to tie the series together. 

Overall, it’s a satisfying novel, even though a funeral like atmosphere hangs over the book. For fans who’ve kept up reading each new book as they came out, it’s a sad day. For me, of course, I have many more to go through. But like life, while this is the end, we will continue on. I think this is what Terry Pratchett was trying to say, along with the empowering notion that he had the ability to pass away with some sort of dignity. And he maybe that will get us, his family and his fans, the strength to march on towards our own undiscovered country.

No comments: