It seems unlikely that anyone unfamiliar with the Discworld will choose to start by trying out this, the forty-first and final novel. But every Discworld novel stands, to some extent, on its own feet, and the curious who pick this up cold are sure to find something to enjoy here. Built on Pratchett’s expert blend of folklore and common sense, this is a fairy tale in the old sense – that is, it is a tale about fairies, and the fight to defeat them in a changing world where everyone suddenly has access to a lot more iron than they did before.
Reading this book first will, of course, spoil the endings of several other Discworld books, predominantly those featuring Tiffany Aching, but it has resonances reaching right back to the third book, Equal Rites, and forward to the fortieth, Raising Steam. But the story itself will make perfect sense and offer an enjoyable tale filled with pop culture references and people trying out new ways of thinking – and most importantly of all, it is funny as well as heart-breakingly sad. The Discworld is still, at its heart, comedy, even if tragedy has been seeping through its bones for a long time now.
But this book is not, primarily, for those new readers, much as they may enjoy it. This is our farewell to the Discworld; while Pratchett may not have known that for sure when writing it, it was always possible, and his editors knew it for certain. The Discworld has always been a world that developed and changed and was never static. Although each novel exists as its own entity, the events of one have always had ripple effects that reach out and touch all the others. We meet old friends again here, as well as making some new ones, and every interaction is tinged with sadness as we know this is goodbye.
For a long-time Discworld reader, this is not a book that can easily be quantified as ‘good’ or ‘not quite so good’ (no Discworld novel is ‘bad’). It is neither of those things. Like all Discworld novels, some will come to think of it as an all-time favourite, while others will consider it pretty good, even if it doesn’t have the Watch in it. No one is likely to think of it as a weaker novel in the series, and most will likely consider it one of the strongest, and certainly one of the most – possibly the most – moving.
And so this book sits as the culmination of all those changes over the years, the ripple effects of every Discworld book from the beginning. Some beloved elements of the world we’ve come to know over the last thirty-two years come to a close, while others are left to walk on into a world we won’t get to see. And yet there is a feeling that they will carry on, somewhere, and the world will move on without us and keep growing and changing and developing, somewhere in the flow of narrativium, even if we can no longer follow it.
Read our spoiler-filled review of The Shepherd’s Crown, here.
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