The Shepherd's Crown (by Terry Pratchett)

It’s almost two years since Sir Terry Pratchett lost his battle against a debilitating form of Alzheimer’s Disease, but his writing lives on. This book was published posthumously, and I’ve been wanting to read it for a while although it’s a bittersweet thought that it’s the final Discworld book ever. It was on my wishlist for a while, and I was delighted to be given a copy for Christmas.

‘The Shepherd’s Crown’ made ideal reading in a busy period when I had only fifteen minutes or so to read each evening before collapsing into an exhausted sleep. It’s really a teenage novel, fifth in the Tiffany Aching series; yet it brings together several threads, and feels in some ways more like a ‘full’ Discworld book, albeit somewhat shorter. And, inevitably, not as polished as some of the earlier books.

Nonetheless, it was a very satisfying read, and an excellent finale to the series. Tiffany is now a young adult, working hard as a witch - which mainly seems to involve being a midwife, nurse and counsellor at all hours of day and night. She has a lot of talent, and this is recognised by Granny Weatherwax; to say more on this would be to give a spoiler for an unexpected storyline that could have been shocking, yet was so sensitively done that I found it almost uplifting.

Meanwhile the evil elves are planning to invade the Discworld again, sensing that the barriers are weak. The advent of the railways lines frightens them - elves cannot tolerate iron or steel - and they don’t understand why goblins are being treated as sentient beings by the people of the Disc. There’s a classic, somewhat brutal battle forming the climax of the book.

Alongside this we meet Geoffrey, a likeable young man with an overbearing father, is determined to become a witch. It’s a nice mirror to the first of the witches books, ‘Equal Rites’, in which a young woman is destined to become a wizard. Pratchett often wrote undercurrents about women’s rights as well as the importance of accepting and working alongside people of all shapes, sizes and races (literally so on the Disc) and it’s a nice touch that Geoffrey is happy to help, to take on some quite unpleasant tasks, and generally to weave peace.

There’s much more; the Nac Mac Feegle naturally play an important role, as does a highly intelligent goat. To those not familiar with Discworld, it would probably be best to try some of Pratchett’s earlier works before reading this, particularly the ones featuring Tiffany Aching. Still, as with all the books in the series it could stand alone, even if the number of people and places might seem rather overwhelming.

I would caution parents that it isn’t a book for younger children. Some quite sensitive topics are covered, and there’s a bit of violence as well as some bad language. Older children and teens who have read the previous Tiffany Aching books may enjoy it, although she is now a young woman rather than a child, and there's even a low-key love interest.

Critics have said that some threads are left rather hanging, and some scenes aren’t really thorough enough. Perhaps that’s so; had the author lived longer, he would no doubt have edited and added, as explained in the epilogue. Nevertheless, it works well and in my opinion it’s still a terrific story; I’m very pleased that I’ve finally read it. Recommended to all who have enjoyed the Discworld series.

Review copyright 2017 Sue's Book Reviews

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