Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett. ★★★
Raising Steam is the fortieth book in the Discworld series and definitely not one you should start with! While it’s the third following Moist, there’s significant appearances from characters from other arcs, such as Vimes. Raising Steam is a book you’re better off reading if you’re already familiar with the majority of the Discworld series. If you haven’t read any Discworld books but are interested in starting, I would suggest Monstrous Regiment, Guards! Guards!, The Wee Free Men, or Going Postal.
The first time I read Raising Steam, I really didn’t like it. On a second read through… it wasn’t completely horrible. It has a few good spots. It suffers in comparison to other Discworld novels, but I also think it’s helped by the inclusion of so many characters I love. Am I forgiving it some failures because of this? Possibly.
In Raising Steam, a young engineer invents the steam engine (FYI he’s the son of a character in Reaper Man). He uses the new engine to construct the Disc’s very first train. All around the Sto Plains, people start to become enchanted by the magic of the railway. However, dwarf extremists are reacting violently against the changing world.
Raising Steam does have a plot, however it’s a weak one. The plot is not at all well constructed, and Raising Steam doesn’t have the constant humor that helps some of the less plot focused Discworld books.
Overall, Raising Steam is way too ambling and wordy. There’s too many little words and clauses like “indeed” and “on the other hand” thrown in constantly. Same goes with exclamation marks. This carries over to the dialogue, which often doesn’t feel discernible from the rest. Dialogue has also gotten longer and more unwieldy. I ended up skimming multiple sections.
However, there were a few good lines. I found myself smiling at the scene where Colon and Nobby tried to explain how the steam engine worked to two small children and became even more entrenched in their wrong explanation as the conversation went on. There also some good character moments, and Pratchett retains his gift for creating spot on analogies:
“Moist, on the other hand, in the vicinity of the press, was as straightforward as a sackful of kaleidoscopes.”
Raising Steam tries to delve into the darkness that some of the later Discworld books have plumbed to well. It tries to do this by expanding on the concept of the small minded grags, who first appeared in Thud!… but it just doesn’t work. It’s too on the nose and over the top. The darkness doesn’t have the palable quality of books like Night Watch or Thud!. If it’s darkness you’re looking for, read one of those novels instead. Although, there was one line in Raising Steam that did work well in this regard:
“When you’ve had hatred on your tongue for such a long time, you don’t know how to spit it out.”
So, overall, Raising Steam isn’t completely horrible, but it’s still a mess and doesn’t compare well to the other books in the series. I’d only recommend it to Discworld completists.