Thursday, May 19, 2016

Review of The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett

It’s rare that emotions pass when hearing of an author’s death. Most produce works that exist at a distance from the reader, rendering the news only briefly noticeable. With Terry Pratchett, however, his personal interests, philosophies, ethics, and some might say his soul exist in every book he writes. And there have been a lot of opportunities to get to know this soul—fifty-nine novels if isfdb is to be trusted. Four of these novels concern the coming of age of one Tiffany Aching, a young witch growing up in the Chalk. An area seemingly modeled on Pratchett’s very own Broad Chalke in England, that The Shepherd’s Crown (2015), the fifth Tiffany Aching novel, is Pratchett’s final novel is a fitting if not bittersweet conclusion to his publishing career and life.

Pratchett sensing his own approaching end, there is (finally) a note of finality to Tiffany Aching’s story. The Shepherd’s Crown opens with the death of Granny Weatherwax (a classic and classy scene reminiscent of Granny Hamstring from Mort). Naming Tiffany as her heir, the once girl now young woman soon finds herself dividing her time between two homesteads: her family’s and Granny Weatherwax’s. Her availability halved in each case, Tiffany is stretched and pulled between the area’s farmers and witches, about-to-give-birth mothers and sick sheep, all looking for help. Making matters worse, the Queen of Fairyland has returned to the Chalk looking for revenge for Tiffany’s frying pan beaning in The Wee Free Men. Something has to give. Tiffany thankfully has her wits—her first, second, and third thoughts—and a certain collection of little blue men to aid her in finding a workable solution.
Though every ounce Pratchett, one of the most interesting aspects of The Shepherd’s Crown is its maturity. Lacking a lot of the slapstick humor and wordplay that Pratchett is renowned for, the humor instead has a soft gleam. But where the book shows its ripeness is actual story. Pratchett proving there is more to his talent than comedy, the ebb and flow of Tiffany’s story is by turns touching, exciting, engaging, and always personal. The ending is a touch rushed (something that couldn’t be avoided given Pratchett’s condition at the time, unfortunately), there nevertheless is a strong sense of another step in Tiffany’s life taking place. Now a young woman with a home of her own, the transition is one as organic as Pratchett’s own evolution. 
There are some, including myself to a degree, who thought I Shall Wear Midnight would be the final Tiffany Aching novel. There was some finality to that story; several characters had been brought back on stage seemingly for a curtain call, and the overall vibe to the novel was one of closure. It turns out there was more to her story to tell, however, and The Shepherd’s Crown tells it—in all Pratchett’s glory, thankfully. -RIP Terry.

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