I read The Shepard’s Crown, Terry Pratchett’s posthumous final book of the Discworld series, the day it was published. I am not ashamed to admit I cried while reading it and cried when I finished it. It was an ode and swansong for the series, and in saying goodbye to a major character Terry Pratchett said his goodbyes to his readers as well. The review will contain a major spoiler, so don’t read it if you dislike spoilers.
Here’s the blurb for the book, which is the fifth one to feature the witch Tiffany Aching, who is all grown up now.
A SHIVERING OF WORLDS Deep in the Chalk, something is stirring. The owls and the foxes can sense it, and Tiffany Aching feels it in her boots. An old enemy is gathering strength. This is a time of endings and beginnings, old friends and new, a blurring of edges and a shifting of power. Now Tiffany stands between the light and the dark, the good and the bad. As the fairy horde prepares for invasion, Tiffany must summon all the witches to stand with her. To protect the land. Her land. There will be a reckoning . . .
For me, the book truly begins in Chapter Two with the passing of Esmeralda Weatherwax, AKA Granny Weatherwax “the witch all other witches though of as the wisest and most senior of them all”. Pratchett dedicated the book to her, and although she dies early in the book the memory of her, the feeling of her, permeates the book. The grief of the other characters at losing Granny Weatherwax is the grief all the readers feel for the end of Granny Weatherwax and the Discworld series. It is the end, it is over, but it is not. It remains in the consciousness of all of us who loved it, and in a strange way it feels like the promise that Discworld, like Granny Weatherwax, continues on just beyond our mortal grasp.
The book has a plot. It is a good plot, like all Pratchett’s plots. But, as good as his plots are, the plots are always dwarfed by the characters within them, and this book is no exception. The plot is secondary to the growth and development of Tiffany Aching, and the way in which Granny Weatherwax’s death effects everyone who knew her (and a lot of people who didn’t).
The book is less developed, less full, than Pratchett’s other works, but that is to be expected. He died before he could finish polishing it to the high gleam of his other works. Nonetheless, it is still a damn fine novel. It still has those brilliant comic gems and implied naughtiness and turns of phrase in it that make Pratchett’s work a joy to read. For example, there is a goat referred to as the Mince of Darkness. That is, beyond doubt, the most magnificent moniker for a goat in the history of the world. Not only is it a glorious pun, it also encapsulates the oddly dainty way that goats can move while evoking the strength and meanness of a riled up billy. Sometimes I wish I could take Pratchett’s phrases out and put them on the floor, so I could roll in them like a cat in catnip.
I will miss his work and I will miss the excitement of knowing there is a new Discworld novel soon to be released, but I am grateful he wrote this book to assist his readers in letting go.