Great by Association: A review of The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett.
Terry Prachett was the…Dickens of our time? I dunno. Parody was an important tool for him, and you can find hints of half of western literature. I prefer to just think we were lucky to have in him the first Terry Pratchett, to whom others will be compared in future.
And Tiffany Aching, the young witch who finds herself at the centre of great and fearful doings, was one of his greatest creations. The sequence has aspects of a Bildungsroman. It has a strong central female character, passes the Bechdel test repeatedly, manages to make a gifted protagonist interesting, and has a fantastic cast of supporting… well, ‘creatures’ will do.
Oh, it has weaknesses. Pratchett loved his characters, or some of them, like Sam Vimes and Tiffany, and sometimes I think they are portrayed as just a bit too good, a bit too far ahead of everyone else.
But it is a minor quibble.
In The Shepherd’s Crown Tiffany finds her place. Or, more correctly, she becomes able to choose it instead of being swept along. It’s a good book.
But if you have not read Pratchett before, do not start here!
This book is the wrong place to start reading Discworld, and for multiple reasons. It’s the last book of a five book series-within-a-series (the Tiffany Aching books within the Discworld series). It’s the last Discworld book too. While structurally it does not assume you have read the earlier books, having read Discworld books, particularly those revolving around witches, lends the story far more resonance and depth. If you come to the book not knowing who Mistress Weatherwax is/was, for example, it will still make sense because she is explained, but much of the emotional power will be absent.
Indeed, I can well imagine readers drawn to reading a TP for the first time by the prominent news of his passing in 2015 might have started with The Shepherd’s Crown and wandered away wondering what the fuss was about — ‘Well, it’s good, but it’s not that good.’
First — this book is not finished. It is complete, but not finished. The author would have made many more passes over it; not presumably changing it massively, but deepening it and making it more finely wrought. As a result, parts of it feel rushed, or blocked out for further development. Since it is a Terry Pratchett novel, even these bits are still good. It’s funny, it hangs together, he introduces characters that I would really like to see more of — young Geoffrey, for example, who seems set to be one of the centres of the book, but ends up being part of the ensemble. But some battles and challenges seem to be over too soon. The great external threat (the return of the elves!) doesn’t really get under way until halfway through, and is dealt with fairly briskly near the end.
It is moving, but partly because of external factors — it is the last Discworld novel. We’ll never experience another new adventure with these wonderful characters.
As my title says, this is a great book because it caps a great series and a great career and has great characters in it doing interesting things.
It’s a good book, better than most of what’s out there, and it is great by association.