The Shepherd's Crown (Discworld Novels) Hardcover – 27 Aug 2015
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"This isn’t just a great Discworld book, it’s extraordinary . . . A magnificent sign-off." (Kat Brown Daily Telegraph)
"From the shadow of dementia, a brilliant novel shines: Terry Pratchett's last book is a funny, fearless farewell . . . This is a book worth reading twice in quick succession." (Christopher Stevens Daily Mail)
"A joyful sign-off from a master of fantasy fiction . . . High-octane literary enjoyment." (Nicholas Tucker Independent)
"Terry Pratchett was never so witty, direct and generous as in this, his final Discworld novel." (Amanda Craig Guardian)
"The Shepherd’s Crown is a sometimes sad, often funny and eminently suitable testament to the life and career of Terry Pratchett." (David Barnett Independent)
Sir Terry Pratchett's final Discworld novel, which features the witch Tiffany Aching.See all Product description
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Until one day I realised I could wait no longer.
I don't wish to give spoilers so I'll tread carefully around the plot, as one major part of it came as a poignant surprise for me, but the main story – as you will naturally have guessed from the cover – revolves around the young witch Tiffany Aching, and – although it could be said of any Tiffany Aching novel that that's the one in which she comes into her own, in this one she really does, and it's clear that this is the book in which she becomes what was clearly Terry's long term vision for her, and that was a gratifying thing to realise.
Sadly, it was clear for me reading this book that although – as indeed Rob Wilkins acknowledges in the afterword – it has a beginning, a middle and an end, it is not the complete work that we all know it would have been if Pterry had more time on this particular mirror of worlds. There are some story elements and characters which are built up without being fully paid off, but that's not something we can change, so if you're a fan I am sure that you too will be bound to notice that about the book, but you will just as equally not mind that because the emotional undertone of the novel is complete and when you can say that about a book, then there can be no real regrets there.
I thought I would feel as sad when I got to the end of the book as I did in that moment when I finally picked it up from my bookcase and read what would be my final unopened Terry Pratchett novel, but I felt happy, resolved and thankful for having that experience throughout the years. And I will re-read Terry's work in those of my years which lie in the future and I will love and appreciate it all over again.
Thank you Terry.
But the key figure in The Shepherd’s Crown isn’t Weatherwax, it’s Tiffany Aching. She’s a figure who first appeared in 'The Wee Free Men' in 2003, when she was a perfectly satisfactory nine-year old lead in a fine book for children; through 'A Hat Full of Sky' and 'Wintersmith' she grew both in age and in depth as a fictional figure, into one of Pratchett’s most appealing and beguiling characters in 'I Shall Wear Midnight'.
In that fourth novel, which belongs with the greats of the Discworld canon, she completed her apprenticeship as a witch and stepped into the full role, recognised, even admired by her peers, including Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg. Now in 'The Shepherd’s Crown', we see her step out into the world a witch with mastery of her craft, and also a young adult – she’s probably about nineteen. Sadly, except for the brief glimpse of her as an older and time-travelling woman near the end of 'I shall wear Midnight', her later career will now remain a closed book to us.
Nor shall we learn anything further of the new and equally intriguing character Pratchett introduces in his final novel. Geoffrey is the third son of a brutal and bullying noble, a common enough trope in Pratchett; what’s unusual about Geoffrey, apart from the extraordinary bond he establishes with a goat, is that he’s a man who wants to be a witch. That’s a satisfying mirror image of Eskarina Smith in a much earlier novel. About to be born as the eighth son of an eighth son, Eskarina is ideally qualified to be the wizard to inherit the mantle of one who’s about to die – except that this eighth son happens to be a daughter.
Geoffrey is the counterpart of Eskarina, the appeal for equal rights for men, as she is for women in the neatly titled 'Equal Rites'. His ability to empathise and win affection make him a crucial ally of Tiffany’s in the main conflict in 'The Shepherd’s Crown', with the Elves whose realm, they feel, will be less well sealed from the world by Tiffany than by Weatherwax, and take her on even though she has conquered them before.
He isn’t her only ally, naturally, as the Nac Mac Feegles, whose Kelda or matriarch felt the showdown with the Elves coming, continue in their roles as Tiffany’s enthusiastic, ferocious if sometimes unruly protectors.
The end result is another fine story, full of the usual mix of fantasy and reality: the Elves, for instance, can’t understand how the humans of the Discworld have adapted to having Goblins living in their midst, picking up another common Pratchett theme, of the benefit to all of mutual tolerance between different peoples.
As usual, Pratchett leaves us with promise of further enchantment to come, and the promise is a strong as ever, even if it we know it can’t now be fulfilled.
Is 'The Shepherd’s Crown' as good as the best Discworld novels?
It has its gems. “Being a witch is a man’s job: that’s why it needs women to do it.” On the subject of fairy gold, which Elves could make appear at will, we’re told, “It disappeared pretty quickly too, as anyone given fairy gold soon discovered. Usually by the morning, which often meant a lively evening in the pub. And an even livelier evening the following night if visiting the same establishment.”
And the last words on Granny Weatherwax are precious.
But 'The Shepherd’s Crown' doesn’t have the finish of the best novels in the series, or the finely honed structure, as the afterword by Pratchett’s assistant Rob Wilkins explains.
"'The Shepherd’s Crown' has a beginning, a middle and an end, and all the bits in between. Terry wrote all of those. But even so, it was, still, not quite as finished as he would have liked when he died.
"If Terry had lived longer, he would almost certainly have written more of this book. There are things we all wish we knew more about. But what we have is a remarkable book, Terry’s final book, and anything you wish to know more about in here you are welcome to imagine yourself."
It’s hard to imagine a more fitting note to end on. With more time, as Wilkins points out, Pratchett would have made the book still better, but it’s remarkable even as it is. He would have written more of this book had he lived; he would, I’m sure, also have written more books.
Now we’re just going to have to imagine them ourselves. In the meantime, we can at least read his last book and hear his voice one last time. Both as a tribute to him, and as a joy to us.
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