Review: Mrs Bradshaw’s Handbook

“Who could dislike the railway?”

“Terry Pratchett”

Mrs Bradshaw's HandbookActually, just Some Thoughts On Mrs Bradshaw’s Handbook.

A companion to Raising Steam, Mrs Bradshaw’s Handbook is a Discworld analogue to the Bradshaw’s Guides of the late 18th century, guiding readers through the many wonders to be found upon the Ankh-Morpork and Sto Plains Hygienic Railway. That the parallel is so blatantly obvious should tell you something about the quality of the book.

It’s not that it is unenjoyable. It isn’t. It’s a bit of fun, on a par with J.K. Rowling’s Quidditch Through the Ages. But I couldn’t help compare it with Nanny Ogg’s Cookbook, a book which I actually own (I borrowed Bradshaw from the library) and which also serves as a companion book, an artefact supposed to attest to the reality of the Discworld. The difference is that the Cookbook is, as well as a world-builder, a sharp, witty and well-observed piece of comedy which helps to flesh out one of the series’ major characters. It also contains recipes. I mean, what more could you want?

Bradshaw isn’t funny at all. Or, rather, its very small quotient of jokes relies on familiarity with the standing gags of the series and are more like Discworld easter eggs than shining examples of wit. (I note here that its cover says “Terry Pratchett Presents” – I suspect that at least part of it has been ghostwritten.) And its roll-call of Discworld towns quickly becomes tiresome, even when we’re supposed to have some familiarity with them (Zemphis, Sto Lat, Twoshirts): while listing inns with quaint names is a fun game to begin with, the joke does begin to pall after 50 pages.

I guess my real issue with this book is that it somehow robs vast swathes of the Disc of their magic. Because now they look like imitations of Earthly towns, with their theme parks and hotels and expat restaurants. There’s no invention here: it’s just a sort of steampunk England, with a few trolls and dwarfs thrown in for good measure. It’s not really Discworld, not any more.

I think fans of the series might find something in Bradshaw to recommend it, but I also think £12.99 is probably too high a price to pay for such a swift and meatless read. Read it; but take it out at the library if you can.

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