Sir Terry Pratchett and The Shepherd’s Crown

cv_the_shepherds_crownDiscworld shaped me like no other series has. Harry Potter was a little late, and I think I discovered Discworld at 14, the perfect age. I only realised why I enjoyed it so much in seventh form, when we had a guest lecturer in to teach us some philosophy. Pratchett’s books are full of philosophy (natural and metaphysical), particularly in the parts of the novels about the wizards and the gods. When I went on to university to study philosophy, along with a little bit of Christian thought and history, my mum probably regretted her gift of Maskerade.

The Shepherd’s Crown is the last in the Discworld series, and it concentrates on the world of the witches – the Chalk and Lancre, with a dash of Ankh-Morepork thrown in for good measure. Tiffany Aching was introduced along with the Nac Mac Feegles in The Wee Free Men, and this thread of Discworld is targeted at Young Adults, though I suspect Pratchett never wrote Discworld to target older and younger readers; that was simply how the story unfolded. He claimed that Tiffany Aching was his favourite Discworld character, with Commander Vimes in at a close second. Perhaps this is why he chose to focus on her in this, his final book.

The book is centred on two battles of power. First, Granny Weatherwax leaves her final note: I is probably dead. Meanwhile, in Fairyland, Lord Peaseblossom is waiting to take the place of the diminished Fairy Queen who was previously defeated by Tiffany. The barrier between the lands is gossamer thin, and the fairies are dying to make humans their playthings again. The only way to preserve the world is to make a group of arguing witches agree for a change, and work together to kick the fairies back to Fairyland for good, this time. The introduction of a male witch, Geoffrey, who is very handy with goats, and livestock, and calming the minds of those around him, helps matters a little, and helps Tiffany to keep her steadings in order.
The thing I love about Pratchett books is that while they demand very little of you, they leave you with a lot more than you started with. His quirky offsides always had a grain of truth, and even his most characterful characters (like Nanny Ogg) had something of humanity that you recognised instinctively. I think he taught me to be a bit more cynical, to question more of what is supposedly normal – whether that was eating street food from the likes of ‘Cut-my-own-hand-off-Dibbler’ or simply how to connect the dots between people’s behaviour and what they value. He was a great drawer-out of stories, and I think it was a deep knowledge of what makes people do as they do that allowed this.

The Shepherd’s Crown was written as Pratchett’s life was drawing to an end. There are not as many footnotes, there are a few missing stitches, but it is a fitting end to a wonderful career, and the creation of a wonderful world. If I had to choose between Narnia, Hogwarts and Discworld, I would go Discworld every time.

Thank you Terry Pratchett, for Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Queen Magrat, Tiffany Aching, Agnes Nitt, for Commander Vimes, Sergeant Angua, Nobby, Sergeant Colon and Captain Carrot, for Moist von Lipwig, Adora Belle Dearhart, Lord Vetinari and Drumknott, for Mustrum Ridcully and Ponder Stibbons, and of course, for Rincewind the inept wizard who began it all. Not to forget Death, and his granddaughter, Susan. May they and the dozens of others who lived in your world, rest in peace.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

The Shepherd’s Crown
by Terry Pratchett
The 41st Discworld book
Published by Doubleday
ISBN 9780857534811

My review of Raising Steam gives you more of an introduction to Pratchett’s work.

Book Review: Half Bad, by Sally Green

Now available in all bookstores. 

For the Council, the world is definitely cv_half_badblack and white. White witches are good, lawful and to be protected. Black witches are bad, wild and to be hunted down and brought to justice. Fains, non-witch humans, are essentially irrelevant, although there are many witches who are half fain, half white witch. And then there’s Nathan.

Born of a black witch father and a white witch mother, Nathan is a half-code and the only one of his kind. According to the Council, he is a dangerous anomaly and must be closely monitored to see which of his halves will win out. As he approaches his seventeenth birthday, when he will come of age and discover his “gift”, the Council interferes more and more in his life, until he winds up literally caged, which is where we meet him in the opening chapter of the book.

It soon becomes clear, however, that what the Council wants more than anything is to use Nathan as bait to catch his father, Marcus, a notorious and wanted black witch. However, while the Council might see the world in black and white, it is pretty clear that the self-proclaimed “good” white witches are often as bad as their “bad” black witch foes, and the distinction between killing for “good” and killing for “evil” is very tenuous.

Initially it seemed like this book was going to be an allegory about race in the vein of Mallory Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses series. White versus black, discrimination and persecution based on colour are all quite obvious themes in Half Bad, but as the story developed I got less of a sense that “race” was what it was all about. Instead I got the sense that this was more a comment on authority and the dangers of self-proclaimed righteousness – a sort of teenage-fantasy version of Orwell’s 1984.

Being based around witches, Harry Potter comparisons are likely inevitable, but Nathan’s world is certainly no Hogwarts. Darker, and with more adult themes, Half Bad is more likely to appeal to Hunger Games fans.

I enjoyed the structure of the book, which played with time and point of view to good effect. It opens in the little-used second person narrative, which works well to both unsettle and drawn in the reader, but switches back to the more familiar first person a couple of chapters in.

Half Bad is the first of a series and while it is not startlingly new or original it is well-written with interesting, well-developed characters and thought-provoking story line. Fans of young adult fantasy will certainly find a worthy new writer in Sally Green.

Reviewed by Renée Boyer-Willisson

Half Bad
by Sally Green
Published by Penguin Books Ltd
ISBN 9780141350868