“Alas for us, our dreams came true.”
SPOILER ALERT! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS.
The Shepherd’s Crown is, of course, Terry Pratchett’s Last Novel, which inevitably makes it very difficult to review with any kind of critical integrity. There’s always the temptation to look at it as a deliberate ending, a cap to forty years of writing; which is, of course, ridiculous, given that Pratchett notoriously wrote novels as a break from writing novels. We can’t say with any truth that Pratchett intended this to be the Last Discworld Novel; only that it is the last Discworld novel.
But it is the Last Tiffany Aching Novel; which gives us a good point to start from.
The Shepherd’s Crown sees a world (a Disc) in flux. Early on in the novel, one of the Disc’s pivotal characters, the formidable Granny Weatherwax, dies, leaving a gap in the world which Tiffany (because plot) must fill, somehow. Sensing the land’s sudden weakness, the elves begin to muster behind the walls of the world. Meanwhile, Geoffrey, the son of a landowner, leaves his entitled family and goes a-wandering with his pet goat, wanting to become a witch; and colouring all this is the great iron horse of the railway, speeding the Disc into a new age.
Essentially, the message of the novel seems to be: “Don’t do what your ancestors did or you’ll get a skillet in the face.” It is a story of progress and of youth, of new chances and new choices; but for all its cheerfulness about change it’s also a story that lacks nuance. It divides the Disc into two: the old (Granny Weatherwax, the elves, Geoffrey’s father) and the new (Tiffany Aching, Geoffrey and his goat, the railway), and there is no compromise between these sides. With the exception of Granny Weatherwax, who is dead and therefore does not have very much to say for herself, Old is Bad and New is Good and Shiny. The elves are bad, and they can’t even hide their badness any more like they could in Lords and Ladies. Geoffrey’s father is bad, through and through. Tiffany Aching, on the other hand, is an angel who is always right, as is Geoffrey, and the railway is an unequivocal force for good, notwithstanding industrial pollution and the destruction of native habitats. Can we compare this to Going Postal, which saw the con artist Moist von Lipwig making something new and exciting from something very old indeed – which saw the forces of impersonal industrialisation (the clacks) defeated by a phoenix from the ashes, holding on to traditional values (the Post Office)?
Here, instead, we have the Queen of the Fairies, the nastiest elf of the lot, learning that when she does a good deed she gets a warm glow inside. We have Geoffrey making peace by magic, not by careful negotiation. We have a team of witches defeating the most twisted baddies in the entire Discworld series by hitting them in the face. (Remember Jingo, anyone? The one about not smashing people in the face just because you can?)
The Discworld has moved on, and it has left subtlety and compromise in its wake, replaced instead only by the brashness of the new.
It seems a good place to say goodbye, on the whole.