Sunday 20 September 2015

Review - "The Shepherd's Crown" by Terry Pratchett

This is the 41st and final Discworld* book.

What a sad statement that is.

Terry Pratchett's delightful universe began its life as a parody of fantasy tropes. Powerful wizards and witches, magnificent barbarians, cunning thieves, and incompetent guardsmen.

Over 41 books the Discworld has retained that sense of humour, but developed into an entirely solid fantasy setting. With its endless possibilities for story, Pratchett never felt the need to go elsewhere, content to potter around in his creation.

He returned to his favourite characters time and again. This final book features the accomplished young witch Tiffany Aching, along with her companions the Nac Mac Feegle - a clan of ferocious blue gnomes with broad Scottish accents.

Together they face an invasion of elves, in the high places where the border between worlds grows thin.

This is Terry Pratchett's farewell to his fans and his Discworld, released well after his death from early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

One of his major characters dies early on in the story. Their approach to death - practical and accepting - made me want to cry. It is a thinly veiled glimpse at Terry's gratitude for his life and opportunities.

The Shepherd's Crown is infused with warmth. It is a love letter to the best of humanity - the peacemakers, the healers, and the humble salt of the earth folk who most need their attention.

It doesn't have any sort of twist, as Pratchett's books often do. And I was never in any doubt about how it was going to end. But the journey is beautiful.

If you've never read one of Discworld books - oh, how I envy you! - then don't start here.**

But if you know your way around Ankh-Morpork already, you must read The Shepherd's Crown. You must turn the last page and feel the sweet sadness as the tale finally ends.

(I was lucky enough to speak with Terry Pratchett about 15 years ago, when he was touring Australia. Have a listen via the Nerdzilla blog.)


* So called because the world is a disc, rotating on the backs of four gigantic elephants, themselves standing on the shell of a planet-sized star-turtle.

** They're all good, but Equal Rites is probably the best jumping-on point. And you need to read at least one of the Tiffany Aching books before you start this one - preferably The Wee Free Men.***

*** Terry loved a good footnote. They're often the funniest bits of his books.

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Review - "Fitz and the Fool" trilogy by Robin Hobb

Robin Hobb has become very meta as a fantasy author - with this series she has created a trilogy of trilogies.

The central character of them all is FitzChivalry, who is both gifted and cursed to be the bastard son of a Prince.

He is unwanted, yet his blood is too valuable to waste. He lives in the royal castle, but is treated with contempt by those within it. He has amazing telepathic gifts, but will be killed as a witch if he reveals them.

Fitz finds a place as the apprentice to the royal assassin, who teaches him to be both a spy and a subtle killer.

The first three books, The Farseer Trilogy, are about Fitz's younger years. They are masterful fantasy works, with incredibly solid characters in a gripping tale.

The next three books, The Tawny Man Trilogy, are about Fitz in his middle age. It's quite enjoyable, if not quite as good as the first trilogy.

And now we come to the new trilogy, Fitz and the Fool, which is about Fitz's mature years.

He's in his 50's and has a new identity which allows him to leave his difficult upbringing behind. He has a place and a family. He has found contentment.

Naturally, it doesn't last.

One of the hundreds of characters from the books (that I've completely glossed over) is the Fool, who first appears as the King's jester and is later revealed to be a pale prophet.

Fitz and the Fool become closer than brothers, as the Fool uses Fitz to find a better future for their world, no matter how brutal their trials may be.

As this new series begins, they haven't seen each other for a decade, but the Fool reappears as a broken man. He has been tortured and nearly destroyed by those who would take his prophetic power for themselves.

In this horrific state, he doesn't want the new, gentler Fitz. He needs the axe-wielding assassin of old to avenge him and cleanse his homeland of evil.

This is Robin Hobb in top form. I had trouble putting these books down at night, finding myself reading until 3am.

Like the original Farseer trilogy, these have a real emotional depth. Fitz has been through so much by this time, that it's heart-warming to see him finding happiness and devastating when that begins to crash down around him. I am absolutely hanging for the final book to appear next year.

For anyone who's read the first two series, I cannot recommend these new books enough.

If you haven't read them yet, pick up Assassin's Apprentice. You will thank me for it.

The Farseer Trilogy
- Assassin's Apprentice
- Royal Assassin
- Assassin's Quest
The Tawny Man Trilogy
- Fool's Errand
- The Golden Fool
- Fool's Fate
The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy
- Fool's Assassin
- Fool's Quest
- Assassin's Fate (working title, due 2016)
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