Today on my commute home I finished Terry Pratchett’s final book, The Shepard’s Crown. As it happens, this is only the 3rd one of his books I’ve read (or listened to as the case is).
You claim to be a fantasy writer and you’ve only read 3 of Terry Pratchett’s books?
Uh, yeah, I’m ashamed to say that yes, just the 3, and I listened to them on Audiobook, actually. To put a slightly finer point on my deep and utter failure as a human being, I only just picked one up by random accident. My wife just happened to go out and grab a random audio book and loaded it up on my iPod a couple of weeks ago.
Really though, I don’t want to talk about how I somehow made it nearly to the age of 40 without ever having picked up one of his books. What I really want to talk about is the book itself. I suppose it would have been easy enough to type a paragraph into Goodreads, but when I finished this book it demanded that I do more, say more. As you’ll see shortly I didn’t, but I wanted to say slightly more than a routine review might cover anyhow.
The Shepard’s crown is among dozens set in the Diskworld universe. It’s part of the Tiffany Aching series. I think it’s important to note that not only did I not know it was his final book when I started reading it, I wasn’t really aware that he very probably knew it was his last book. From the very outset, the book has a much more somber tone than the previous one in that series. I felt vaguely sad and reflective from the get-go. A key character dies very early in the book. It’s not a violent death, but the sort of death that perhaps any one of us might hope for. At home, after a good long life and with friends to mourn our passing. It’s written in such a way as to be just a departure to a new land rather than anything particularly final, though it’s that too.
The theme of dying and new beginnings, and in particular, new beginnings someone might not be around to see, is present throughout. It’s a slightly melancholy undertone across the whole thing, but far from ruining the story, it gives it emotional punch without being overdone. The end of the book basically gets to the point of: Life goes on, but without you and someone else will be there in your place and while that’ll be different, it’s okay. In a lot of ways, I felt that this was a commentary on Pratchett’s own departure. I mean, even after death he’s not only spinning quite a lovely yarn to readers, but also inspiring writers. That said, at no point did the book have a ‘feel sorry for me’ vibe, it was more of a, this is how it is and nobody likes it, but that’s the way of things so let’s get on with it.
While it’s true that the book isn’t quite as polished as the previous in the series, and there are a few clear loose ends, it’s every bit as good. One of the key items I was expecting to be wrapped up wasn’t, but I also wasn’t surprised to find that Neil Gaiman commented on this specifically, and that comment can be found on Wikipedia. When you run short on time, sometimes things get missed out. However, if I don’t read another one of his books, I still feel sufficiently satisfied that a slightly uneven final work can be forgiven. After all, even with some awkward transitions and a small missing element at the end, it’s still a much finer piece of work than so many other books you might compare it to.
For me, what makes this book all the sadder is that it marks the ending for a truly remarkable writer. I heard about his passing last year, but I didn’t really realize what that mean to the world. I do now and I’m not happy about it. Not at all. I feel both smarter and inspired to be a better writer after just having listened to what he’d written.
In the end though it’s an extremely fitting final book. It may be that this is why his estate has said they won’t be publishing any posthumous works, after all, why would you continue to pile more stuff on the ice-cream once the cherry has been placed?