Warning: this review contains spoilers. Our spoiler-free review is here.
The first Discworld novel I ever read was the third published, Equal Rites. It introduced one of the Discworld’s strongest characters, in every sense of the word. Granny Weatherwax is the good variety of strong female character, able to keep elves at bay and Borrow a swarm of bees, but she is also a strong character in the sense that she feels so completely three-dimensional you almost expect her to leap off the page and scold you for neglecting your common sense.
And now her story has come to an end, and with it, our glimpse into the mirror of worlds we have been enjoying for the past thirty-two years.
It was not entirely deliberate that The Shepherd’s Crown is, as the back cover reminds us, the final Discworld novel. Rob Wilkins’ Afterword offers a tantalising glimpse of the other stories that will never now be written down, and this novel is not an ending. The Discworld goes on and Tiffany Aching has a lot of future ahead of her. It may say ‘The End’ at the bottom of the last page, but this is not a story that has an end, just a point where we have left it to go and do other things. The story carries on, and while there will be no more Discworld novels, it will continue in other ways, in plays and (probably) screen versions, through games and cosplay events.
It seems appropriate, however, that this is, as it turns out, the last novel. Pratchett created many hundreds of fascinating and beloved characters over the three decades and change he wrote about the Discworld, but three, perhaps, stand out over the rest as representing the very heart and soul of the series; Death, Samuel Vimes, and Granny Weatherwax. Death once narrowly escaped another Reaper Man and is firmly ensconced in his job, and Sam Vimes has a city to protect and a young son to raise. It seems horribly, tragically fitting, then, that Granny Weatherwax has been the one to pass on her steading to a younger successor in this final book.
The death of Granny Weatherwax also draws together many strands of the stories and characters of the Disc. This is a book about Tiffany Aching, but we are able to see final glimpses of Archchancellor Ridcully of Unseen University, Lord Vetinari, the dwarfs and especially, of course, the witches of the Disc, all of whom are affected by Granny’s passing. Like meeting old friends, it’s a joy to see them again, and fiercely satisfying to follow them as they band together to defeat an old enemy who thought the absence of Granny left them defenceless.
It’s easy to focus on the sense of passing in this book, with the passing of the author sadly coinciding with that of one of his greatest creations. But this is a Discworld book, and no matter how tragic and weighty they may be, there is always a light heart at the centre of any of these novels. And so it is with this one; the hilarious footnotes are present and correct as ever, and the references to everything from Shakespeare to Dad’s Army to Margaret Thatcher will ensure that readers are smiling through their tears.
Although it is Granny’s passing that kicks off the plot, this is not a book about death, but about change. It brings the story begun in Equal Rites full circle, for just as that novel featured a young woman trying to become a wizard, here we meet a young man trying to become a witch. Where Esk was given a wizard’s staff, Geoffrey finds himself inheriting Granny Weatherwax’s broomstick (or the essence of it, new shell and new bristles notwithstanding). Tiffany cannot be Granny Weatherwax, but must do things her own way, just as there will be new, young authors who will never be able to be Terry Pratchett, but will do wonderful things of their own. And Granny Weatherwax is not gone, anyway – she is everywhere.
It is inevitable, though, that its posthumous publication means this feels like a book about passing on to many readers, certainly to all those who have read and enjoyed the Discworld novels over many years. But as Death himself says, Granny Weatherwax, her books and her author have left the world better than they found it, and no one can do any better than that.
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