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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