The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett. ★★★★
The Shepherd’s Crown is the forty-first and final Discworld novel. This is an emotional experience. While I’m sad that the Discworld series is over, I feel like The Shepherd’s Crown is an appropriate ending.
If you haven’t read at least the witch novels (starting with Equal Rites or Wyrd Sisters) and the Tiffany Aching novels (starting with The Wee Free Men), please don’t pick up The Shepherd’s Crown. This is a book to end on, not begin with.
The Shepherd’s Crown is the fifth novel following Tiffany Aching witch of the Chalk, and the Discworld has greatly changed since it began in 1983 with The Color of Magic. It is more industrialized and modern, much closer to our own world than the medieval fantasy land it started out as. After a devastating event early on in the novel, the elves, a sinister and parasitic species who live in Fairyland, sense a chance to wreck havoc on the Disc. But this is no longer a world kind to elves – iron burns their skin and negates their magic, and since the coming of the train in Raising Steam, iron has filled the land.
Still, the elves will ride out. And Tiffany and the other witches will be there to stop them.
Way back in 1987, Terry Pratchett wrote a book called Equal Rites, in which a young girl wanted to become a wizard. Now, in The Shepherd’s Crown, there’s a boy who wants to be a witch. It’s fitting how these things circle around and reflect each other. Unfortunately, while I really like the idea of Geoffrey’s character, in execution he just isn’t that interesting. He doesn’t much in the way of depth and feels almost entirely two dimensional.
“But why shouldn’t this boy want to be a witch? She had chosen to be a witch, so why couldn’t he make the same choice?”
As I said, I really like this idea and how Tiffany makes the decision to train a boy, going beyond the witch=woman and wizard=man binary. The Discworld is changing, and Tiffany doesn’t see any reason why she shouldn’t help it along.
“Why? Why not do things differently? Why should we do things how they have always been done before? And something inside her suddenly thrilled to the challenge.”
But on the whole, the story of a boy wanting to become a witch is just a subplot. What this book is really about is death and loss and grief. People we love may die, but we still have to move on. The goats still have to be milked and the laundry done. The world may be seen to pause, but ultimately it will keep turning.
“Tiffany found her mind filling up with an invisible gray mist, and in that thought there was nothing but grief. She could feel herself trying to push back time, but even the best witchcraft could not do that.”
And so life goes on. But the person we lost is still with us, in the way they shaped us and the world around them. In a sense, they are everywhere.
I cried when I read The Shepherd’s Crown. I feel close to tears even as I write this review. There are problems with the book to be sure – in places it is no more than a first draft, but it is far superior to the last couple of books and the themes it deals with makes it entirely appropriate as the book Pratchett wrote before he died.
I love this series. It’s impacted my life in ways I can’t even begin to explain. While it may have ended, the books Pratchett has written will still always be there for me and I know I will continue to treasure them in the years to come.