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I have a long history with Pratchett’s Discworld novels. I read my first one aged 14, it was called Maskerade, featuring the witches of Lancre and based on Phantom of the Opera, and I never looked back. They have long been my favourite companions on bus journeys from Dunedin to Christchurch, and Christchurch to Westport (10 hours in total, about the length of time it took me to read one); on long-haul flights to the UK, and basically anytime I need a light book that will make me laugh and learn something about humankind in the process.
I was sad to hear that Terry Pratchett had been diagnosed with Alzheimers, and amazed when despite this diagnosis, he recently signed a 10-book deal with his publisher. Looking into this, he has stated in twitter though that ‘The rumours of my 10 book deal have been greatly exaggerated…the majority have already been published in the UK’.
Regardless, when I saw Pratchett had a new book out, I jumped on the chance to read and review this. Particularly because it stars one of his more recent lead characters, Moist von Lipwig, one of the most lovable shysters ever written. Moist came to light in Going Postal, carried on the good work in Making Money, and now tackles the industrial age with Raising Steam.
The brilliant thing about writing in a made-up world seems to be that you have endless inspiration provided by the real world. Ankh-Morepork, the major city, can be read as any major city in Europe in the age of change. The city is constantly changing, growing, gobbling up everything it finds in its path. There is cultural diversity provided by dwarves, goblins, trolls, vampires, werewolves, and Nac Mac Feegles; and there is spiritual diversity provided by the Oi Dong Monastry and the Small Gods. This book is ostensibly about the introduction of the steam engine, but what it is actually about is the prevention of civil war, and how things that seem to be a big deal actually aren’t, when it comes down to it.
The dwarves are being driven against each other by factions of grags (read fundamentalists), who don’t believe that dwarves should mix freely with trolls, goblins, et al. Though it isn’t clear from the book, they believe that they should stay in the deep mines and live traditionally. This doesn’t sit well with the King of the Dwarves Rhys Rhysson, and what comes to play is a drama based on the creation of a train service to reach the other side of Discworld in time to stop the grags claiming the traditional throne (the Scone of Stone).
Pratchett’s work is driven by witty one-liners, pithy sentiments, and happy endings. You feel as though each and every one of his many hundreds of characters live in his head and talk directly to the page. Sometimes he curates the story well, and sometimes there are holes in the plot you could drive a car through, but I have never read a book of his that fails to entertain.
This isn’t the book I would suggest those who have never read a Discworld book in their lives pick up* – but it is a good addition to the longest-running fantasy series in history.
Reviewed by Sarah Forster
*I would recommend Equal Rites if you like witches; Soul Music if you like twisty philosophy (Pratchett’s Death is brilliant); and Small Gods for wizardry and idiots.
by Terry Pratchett
Published by Doubleday