The Shepherd’s Crown – Terry Pratchett – SPOILERS

I’m not even going to try to discuss this without spoilers. So be warned. Not even little ones. I am just going for it.

(Lalala filler text lalala so the spoilery bits don’t show up in the preview on Facebook, lalala words words words words words)

I think that’s enough?Back Cover of Shepherd's Crown

Right. So. First thing’s first – this book made me the saddest. I mean, they even put this on the back:

I mean, I knew that, of course. But did they have to put it in capslock under the blurb? Just to rub it in? I guess at least there’s a goat. The goat does help. He’s called Mephistopheles.

But even without knowing the circumstances of the book, this book is Not A Happy Story. Pratchett is clearly winding down plots and tying up loose ends, and he picked one of the big ones. So, spoilers wahey, here goes:

Granny Weatherwax dies.

I’ll just let that sink in for a moment.

It’s right at the start of the story, and I totally understand why he did it, but that does not make me any happier about it because god damnit she should have been immortal. We could have had our headcanon of her, never certain what happened after the last page of the last book. But her story was finished for her, and it is just a sad, sad way to begin things. She’s always been one of the best characters. I’ve always felt that she and Vimes were the characters Pratchett used to put his views into the stories (though of course that may be baseless projection on my part). They’re the ones who really impose their will on the world around them and shape the things that happen. There are other heroes in the other stories, but I don’t think they have as much influence on the entirety of the Discworld series as those two get. Sam Vimes’ story hasn’t been finished, but it’s been slowly winding down for a while – he’s got his family life now, his wife and son and position and… well, sort of his happily ever after. But Granny Weatherwax hadn’t had that. And so she got her ending here. I can’t say as I expected her to get a happily ever after, really. It wouldn’t have suited her at all. I know there wasn’t really any other way, and that I should have expected this, but still… she dies at the beginning, gently and peacefully, greeting a courteous Death she’d been expecting, and it is her absence that defines the rest of the story. I suppose that’s very apt, when I think about it. So much of the plot is just about how to deal with a world in which there is no Granny Weatherwax anymore.

The rest of the book is, admittedly, a little bit cheerier (though it has more sad bits in than I am accustomed to expect from Pratchett). We return to an old favourite with the witch-plots – the elves. Once again, the fairy court wants to take over the world of humanity, and choose to do so in both Lancre and the Chalk. Tiffany and the Lancre-and-Ankh-Morpork witches have to band together to save their various homes from an elvish incursions through the stone circles. The problem is though… we’ve done this. Kind of twice, even. The whole elvish invasion is done in Lords and Ladies (and Magrat in fact dons once again the armour of the fictional Queen Ynci just in case we’d forgotten) and Tiffany fought them, both in fairyland and the Chalk, in the Wee Free Men. So it’s a bit disappointing. There are new edges to it, of course. We get to meet and learn more about the fairy queen (who gets exiled to the Chalk and helps Tiffany with her plot-mandated epiphany) and we get a new character called Geoffrey (who is male but wants to be a witch – so we’re even sort of channelling Equal Rites in reverse, in case we needed more plot throwbacks*). There’s an overbearing aristocratic father (see also: The Truth, I Shall Wear Midnight); finding the person you are, not the one you think you need to be (Carpe Jugulum)… ok I’ll stop now, but you get the idea. We’ve got a mish-mash of stuff that’s really already been done… even the new bits are old bits with a bit of shine. But then, I don’t think this one is about the plot, really. It’s about tidying up the loose ends and leaving things… not finished, because there was never a chance of that, but at a sensible stopping point.

It’s about getting Tiffany Aching to the position where she can be the next Granny Weatherwax.

And that… that it does pretty well. If you read it as a book just about Tiffany and the inside of her head, and her finding out where and who she needs to be… it does what it’s trying to do there, and the plot is just… impetus for the things that happen for her. Just trimmings. I can live with that.

But… there are other problems. The book really feels… unfinished. Well, no. But it just… nothing sits quite right. And you know why. And that’s just sad. And you can’t escape it, with every sentence feeling not quite as good as it could have been, every bit of dialogue just slightly… askew. So you can’t help but remember, with every page, even when we get the happyish ending (it’s a Pratchett ending, so there has to be some complicated – no dancing off into the sunset), that it’s a really very sad book. I had the same problem with Raising Steam (and to some extent Snuff). It’s not quite as good, and you know why, and it just…

I totally have something in my eye, ok? Definitely.

But I knew this when I went in. I did consider not reading it, for the sake of preserving the memories of the books at their best. But that’s not the point. It is still, for all the little bits that aren’t quite the same, a good story. It is still a Discworld story, and very much so. It ties in to the threads he’s been bringing up in the last few books**, especially Snuff, where the Discworld is moving towards a point of being a better world. We’ve seen Disc society changing, to be more open and accepting, and I think by getting a boy into the community Pratchett’s always had as emphatically feminine, we’ve looped back to the start, neatly rounding off the process. He hasn’t covered everything. There would need to be hundreds of books for that. But by getting back to the reverse of one of the first inequalities he dealt with, it feels like he’s brought it all to completion. It’s a Pratchett ending, so it won’t be a perfectly happy one, but it leaves us in a place much better than we started.

So I’m glad I read it, even though it made me sad. I love Tiffany and her story, and I’m glad to see her reach… very much not an ending, but a culmination of her plot. It’s the one I suspect we’ve all been anticipating (I had, anyway) but it’s good to see her get there. And yes, Granny Weatherwax did really have to die for that to be the case. And maybe it’s good to be sad.

There still exist Pratchett books I haven’t read. I was discussing this with someone yesterday, and he made me think it would be a good idea if I left there some Pratchett books I haven’t read… at least for now (Wings and Dodger, plus the Long Earth sequels). The idea of having read all of Pratchett… no. That can happen later. But I am glad I have read all of Discworld.

Now I just have to read it all again. I can live with that.

*Eskarina actually gets a brief look-in too, but she got that in the previous Tiffany Aching book, so it’s less surprising.

**Ok no, it’s been a theme all along. It was there in Equal Rites, in Men At Arms, in Monstrous Regiment, in Going Postal, in every book all the way along… but it accelerated in Snuff.

Service Update:

I am now officially CAUGHT UP with my ‘blogging. I achieved this by cheating, and reading two books that I wasn’t going to ‘blog about (Rethinking the Other in Antiquity and Wolf Hall, neither of which is SFF) and which took me ages, so I could get my arse in gear and get writing. I’m hoping it’ll last. It’s so much easier doing this when I’ve just finished a book – I think my last few posts have suffered a lot for being written quite a while after the fact – and I would like to get back into the habit of being more in depth and more verbose. The current reading list (possibly not in this order) is: Final Reckoning – the Fate of Bester (third in the B5 novelisation trilogy and my current read), The Faust Act (first graphic novel of The Wicked + The Divine), After Dark (Murakami), Echopraxia (I hear good things), Veiled (Alex Verus novel) and a book about pyramids (which I won’t inflict on you). I think it looks pretty good for a while.

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About readerofelse

A student of a redundant, useless and thoroughly interesting subject and reader of many books, particularly fantasy, science fiction and plenty else besides.
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