The Shepherd’s Crown
Author: Terry Pratchett
Publisher: Random House Publishers
Price: Rs 899 (hardcover)
I am glad that I found out about SirTerry Pratchett in my twenties. The first book of his that I read was Good Omens, which was written in collaboration with Neil Gaiman. After being really impressed with the work I had proceeded to read everything by Gaiman but continued to postpone reading the rest of Sir Terry’s work. Then, after a number of other books by many different authors including some unmentionable but supremely readable one’s, I decided to finally start with the Discworld Series and (I say this with the least amount of soppiness and the maximum amount of wonder)realised for the first time what I was missing out on. The Shepherd’s Crown, which was published in August 2015, is the last book set within the Discworld universe as Sir Terry died last March.
This is the fifth book in the Discworld universe which features the young witch, Tiffany Aching, as the main protagonist. In the beginning of the book, Tiffany, a precocious teenage witch, finds herself increasingly overworked being the only witch taking care of her steading which includes the whole of the Chalk Country. A witch’s day to day work includes taking care of people’s ailments, settling disputes, helping with the births and laying out the dead among other things. The Kelda or the head of the clan of the Nac Mac Feegles - the six-inch-tall, blue, Scottish pictsies - gets increasingly worried about the young witch. She worries partly because nobody spares a thought for Tiffany’s well-being despite her running to and fro to the aid of a generally ungrateful population. However, the Kelda also senses a new danger just on the horizon and asks the Tiffany to be wary.
Sir Terry dedicated his last book to Granny Weatherwax who, like the author, considered death to be an inconvenience because there were so many things to do but life goes on.
Adding to Miss Aching’s troubles, the most powerful of all the witches, Esmeralda Weatherwax better known as Granny Weatherwax dies and leaves her possessions, her cat, You, and her steading in the country of Lancre to Tiffany, making her the first amongst equal amongst witches as she is Granny’s chosen successor. Granny’s death is felt all over the Discworld and ancient enemies who were biding their time till the barriers between worlds guarded by Esme Weatherwax weakened decide to show up again to wreak havoc in the lives of the people of the Ramtops.
Sir Terry introduces a new character, Geoffery, the youngest son of the brutish Lord Swivel, who intends to become the first male witch in the history of the Discworld. Geoffery and his pet goat Mephistopheles enter Granny’s steading and very soon are admitted into the midst of the coarse and rustic population of the village. Other recurring characters like Archchancellor Ridcully, Nanny Ogg and Lord Vetinari are also given their brief but memorable space. This is a book about last conversations and last stands, unlikely heroes and unlikely friends.
The book has a hurried feel to it, places where you feel that it is too direct; lacking the typical Pratchett touch of subtle humour and perhaps it is the best book to be direct in. The book is about death, humility and about empathy without the shock and the drama. In Rowling’s Harry Potter series the reader feels each and every death acutely as was the intention of the author to illustrate the horrors of war. Indeed, there are chapters in the Deathly Hallows that I do not revisit easily but Pratchett’s last novel, even though it contains the death of my favourite Discworld character and also is the last word about the universe I loved very dearly, is not a painful read.
In the afterword, Sir Terry’s assistant Rob Wilkins talks about the unfinished ideas which will never be books and the magnitude of the death of the author hits you harder. Sir Terry usually worked on more than one book at a time. The Shepherd’s Crown was started before his penultimate novel, Raising Steam, had finished. This is not the finest example of Sir Terry Pratchett’s work. It is certainly not the best Discworld novel there is but, for those who have followed Sir Terry’s work, it is certainly the most heartbreaking one.
Sir Terry dedicated his last book to Granny Weatherwax who, like the author, considered death to be an inconvenience because there were so many things to do but life goes on. On 12 March last year, Sir Terry died. On the official Terry Prattchett Twitter account Rob Wilkins had written the most fitting tribute to the author paid by his own creation, the ever courteous and polite Death: AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.
Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.