Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Book Review - Terry's Pratchett's The Shepherd's Crown

The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett
Published by: HarperCollins
Publication Date: September 1st, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Time doesn't stand still. Time is always moving forward. A witch, more then most, knows about life and death and the inevitability of both. The inevitable is about to happen in Lancre as Granny Weatherwax cleans her house for the last time and prepares to walk with DEATH. The rest of the witches can't believe that Esmerelda Weatherwax would do something so predictable as dying. At least her final wishes cause a stir as she leaves her steading to the young Tiffany Aching. But Tiffany isn't about to let Granny down! She will prove to all the other witches that Granny Weatherwax knew what she was doing, because didn't she always? Though the death of such a powerful witch has sent a shudder through the world. What was once safe and secure is now vulnerable, permeable, and those who were kept out sense it too. The fairies have long been trapped in their realm, unable to hunt among the humans, unable to enslave musicians, kidnap children, and kill indiscriminately. The Queen had an unforgettable encounter with Tiffany Aching and since that time the Discworld has become more and more inhospitable to their kind, banding the world in iron and steam. But the Lord Peaseblossom defies the Queen and decides that it's time for the fairies to take back the human world. Only they have one problem. Witches.

When Terry Pratchett died earlier this year I might have cried more than a little. Here was one of the most amazing authors I've ever read whose life was cut way too short. I had seen him only four years earlier, and sadly in those four years it was a rapid decline for him. He had all these stories left to tell and in the end he gave us one more before going. It's not just the nostalgia in me, this book really did feel like one more for the road. Before even picking it up I just intuited that Granny Weatherwax was leaving this world, because Terry was taking her with him, moreso than the other characters. It was his way to say goodbye. Granny Weatherwax organized her little cottage, put everything in order, let her wishes be known, and walked with DEATH hand in hand out of this world. This was the goodbye Terry wanted to leave us with, his work was as done as it could be and he and DEATH walked together, with a very opinionated witch by their side. This slim volume has everything there that you could want in a Discworld novel, but it lacks that final something. It's not unfinished, it's unpolished. The text wasn't pushed to it's furthest point and repetitive phrases weren't excised. This makes it even more bittersweet. The goodbye we were given was a hasty one. Everyone has one last quick cameo and then they shuffle off, stage right, living on through their stories though their creator is no more.

Terry has admitted more than once that his favorite character he created was Tiffany Aching, and that is perhaps why his fanbase, me included, have connected so strongly with her. Therefore it makes sense that the last tale to tell was one from Tiffany. But there's a part of me which is asking why. Why write it? Why write The Shepherd's Crown at all? This might seem ungrateful, like asking someone to take back this great gift they have given you, but might I rejoinder with I Shall Wear Midnight. Five years ago Terry Pratchett released what was to be the final Tiffany Aching story, I Shall Wear Midnight. This book is amazing, brilliant, perfection. It was a flawless ending. Tiffany came into her own and you could see the shape of her future. You could see her happily ever after. Then along comes The Shepherd's Crown and pokes holes in that happily ever after. Yes, we got to see more of her future and her inheritance from Granny Weatherwax, but I don't think that future needed to be spelled out, implying it was enough. Instead of envisioning this lovely future with her working side by side with Preston, the perfect match for her, we see their relationship fraying, and one can't help hoping that Tiffany and Preston's future doesn't mirror that of Granny Weatherwax and Mustrum Ridcully. We are told that work is more important then love. Perhaps in the end work was what was most important to Terry, finishing the stories he still had in him. But he was surrounded by people who loved him and fans who still love him. Love not duty seemed a better tone to end on, even if it's not as realistic.

Yet I can counter my own argument by saying, this wasn't so much a Tiffany Aching story as it was a witches story and therefore partially exempt from my displeasure. Prior to Tiffany coming along and hijacking all the witches plot lines they had six books of their own. Despite her being the protagonist here, it's more like those first six books with her filling the figurehead status that Granny Weatherwax did in those books. Therefore I guess you could say it's a more conventional Discworld book and perhaps that's where it fell a little flat for me, I like the individual character studies a little more. The threat isn't just a threat to Tiffany, and therefore her story, it's a threat to all witches, and therefore their story. So the gang is all here. Every witch that has ever graced the pages of Pratchett's writing, and even a wizard, show up. Magrat Garlick threw off her mantle of Queen and once more embraced her witchiness. Agnes took time out from singing to do battle. And of course Nanny Ogg was Nanny Ogg (and if one day she isn't played by Dawn French in some kind of movie or miniseries my life will have been in vain). It was great to see not only the newer witches but those who have been relegated to asides and background characters come to the fore again. Magrat has even got her battle armor on! Though this again brings about that nostalgic feeling. They're being let out for one last battle, one last moonlit broom ride before leaving us forever. Sigh.

Though for me, the best part of this book wasn't any witch or wizard, it was You. And by You I mean Granny Weatherwax's cat. Since that little white fuzzball first appeared I have been fascinated how she and Granny Weatherwax have gotten along, but more then that, how she is kind of a totem for Granny Weatherwax. While a cat would be the first to admit that they are in no way representatives of any person, being their own creatures, I think that cats might just induct Granny into their species, what with her prickly attitude and superior demeanor. After all "witches were a bit like cats. They didn’t much like one another’s company, but they did like to know where all the other witches were, just in case they needed them." Terry Pratchett just has this supernatural ability to understand cats. How You herself is just a fuzzy living bit of magic, able to get from one place to another with the simplest of ease, even if it takes Tiffany hours and hours to get between the two locals. Also, by having You approve of Tiffany it cements her status as Granny Weatherwax's successor. More than missing Terry, I'm going to miss his insights into those furry little mass murderers I love.

As for the real fault in the book? It has nothing to do with it's lack of finish and all to do with the villain. So therefore, no matter how much I could have loved this book if it was 100% finished, I would still end up at the level I feel now because of the fairies. OK people, especially you writers on Doctor Who, I don't like Big Bads coming back. I like fresh villains, wraiths with no eyes, the spirit of Winter, stuff like that, that's original. Cybermen, Daleks, no. The fairies again? No thank you. So far there have been two witches books dealing with these damn fairies, Lords and Ladies and The Wee Free Man. Why are they back? Why why why? It's not good enough to say because they ALWAYS come back. They always come back because writers are lazy and think if it worked once it will work again and readers on the whole like the predictable. For me this doesn't make interesting reading, it makes me bored. It makes me sit back and check out a little, occasionally tuning in to see if they have moved on yet. I will admit in the height of the battle I was a little caught up in the action, but overall, no. But the real truth? If I could get a few more Discworld books and Terry Pratchett back, I would read about as many fairies as he cared to write.


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