I guess it was inevitable that I’d get emotional reading the final Discworld novel. After working my way through the rest of the series (bar one or two that were hard to track down even with interlibrary loans) through the course of my teenage years, Terry Pratchett’s mammoth series occupies a very special place in my heart.
I’m not one for crying over the deaths of people I never met and didn’t know, but I sobbed when I heard about Terry Pratchett’s passing earlier this year, even though I know that a quiet death would have been what he wanted after all his campaigning for dignity in dying. So when I saw The Shepherd’s Crown was available for request on NetGalley, I decided to take a chance.
I thought they wouldn’t approve me, being fairly new to this reviewing malarkey, and I was debating if I could afford the shelf space to buy the hardback because I didn’t really want to wait around for the paperback, but to my surprise I was approved, and downloaded the book straight away.
And … yeah, I was a wreck.
I can’t keep this review totally spoiler-free. I can’t, because it makes it impossible to explain why it affected me. But what I’m going to tell you happens very close to the beginning of the book. You can look away now if you don’t want to know anything.
NO SERIOUSLY THERE ARE SPOILERS HERE
Granny Weatherwax dies, and she leaves her cottage and her role as a witch to Tiffany Aching.
Granny Weatherwax, who has featured in dozens of Discworld novels — the first I remember her from is either Equal Rites or Wyrd Sisters (whichever one comes first), and she crops up again and again throughout the series. Granny Weatherwax, who could stop her hand from bleeding because she didn’t have time to be hurt right then. Granny Weatherwax, who took no nonsense and did no harm (unless someone really deserved it).
Granny Weatherwax, who seemed eternal and significant in the same way that Terry Pratchett seemed eternal and significant to me as a reader.
This is a Discworld novel that deals with death rather than Death: the scythe-bearing figure appears only briefly. It deals with mourning, and legacy, and memories, much more than it deals with philosophical statements delivered in small caps by an unsettling hooded skeleton.
It deals with trying to fill somebody’s shoes and make sense of the hole they’ve left in the world without trying to be them, and of stepping up to a role that you don’t feel capable of taking on. Of trying to continue things they set in place that only they really understood.
(Only as I write this do I realise there’s probably another reason that resonates with me, beyond Pratchett’s death earlier this year: I’m currently working in a school library because the librarian, whom I respected and considered a friend, suddenly died in June. Nobody knows how the system works. Nobody knows what the plans were for everything. I’m trying to fill the gap as best I could, but I’m always aware that I’m inexperienced and don’t have the training to do what she did, even if anyone was there to instruct me. So, yeah, that was probably part of it, although I hadn’t put it into words until now.)
This book has its funny moments, of course it does. The Nac Mac Feegles are a delight, and help relieve some of the tension. But it’s not nearly as funny as a lot of the earlier ones, and knowing that it’s the last one probably makes it hard to approach it with anything other than a serious attitude, you know?
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.
Ultimately, it’s about making peace with a world that is no longer the world you know because somebody who was among its best and brightest inhabitants is gone. And you have to fill in that hole somehow. You have to do something about it, so that things don’t fall apart.
WE ARE ALL FLOATING IN THE WINDS OF TIME. BUT YOUR CANDLE, MISTRESS WEATHERWAX, WILL FLICKER FOR SOME TIME BEFORE IT GOES OUT—A LITTLE REWARD FOR A LIFE WELL LIVED. FOR I CAN SEE THE BALANCE AND YOU HAVE LEFT THE WORLD MUCH BETTER THAN YOU FOUND IT, AND IF YOU ASK ME, said Death, NOBODY COULD DO ANY BETTER THAN THAT. . .
It’s about people who are gone never really being gone because their legacy is everywhere on the world and in the hearts of the people who remember them. It’s about taking on the role they’ve left you, but not losing yourself to it.
Where is Granny now? Tiffany wondered. Could a part of her still be … here? She jumped as something touched her on the shoulder; but it was just a leaf. Then, deep inside, she knew the answer to her question: where is Granny Weatherwax?
It was: She is here — and everywhere.
In the library where I work we have a whole shelf of Discworld books, and a few days ago, one of the younger students borrowed the first one, The Colour Of Magic. I don’t know whether it was the first he’d read, but the thought that someone else was only just starting their acquaintance with Pratchett’s work, while I tried to get through the last book without crying unduly…
… made me realise that Tiffany’s right. He is here — and everywhere. On my bookshelves, and on the those in the library. In the minds of people who’ve loved his books for years and those only just discovering it. We can’t fill the hole he left behind because he’s still in it.
I can’t review this book as a book in its own right. I can only review it as what it represents for the Discworld series and Pratchett’s legacy.
So I will forego rating it in favour of crawling into a corner and dealing with my emotions. I’m sure you’ll understand why that’s necessary.