Sir Terry Pratchett, WC’s favorite author, died in March of this year. On September 1, the novel he was writing when he died was released, A Shepherd’s Crown, the fifth novel in the Tiffany Aching series.
Pratchett, handicapped by the posterior cortical atrophy that killed him, still managed five novels, not counting Crown, before his death. His friend and amanuensis, Rob Wilkins, reveals that more were planned. But death took Terry first.
For those of us who loved his work, Crown is bittersweet. Even if it less polished than Pratchett would have liked, it is the very last new Discworld novel any of us will read. WC doesn’t mind admitting to a few tears. For the loss of all that talent. Mostly.
Early in Crown, a beloved character dies. Death, itself famously a recurring character in Pratchett’s work, says to that character (and remember Death always speaks in capital letters):
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 BETTER THAN THAT . . .
A very nice elegy for Pratchett himself. And if WC had to describe Crown with one word, that would be it: elegiac. Sure, Tiffany Aching has to face her greatest challenge yet. And yes, Pratchett pulls of another amazing inversion. In Equal Rites, young Eskarina wanted to be a wizard, solely a man’s job on the Discworld. In Crown, young Geoffrey Swivel arrives on Tiffany’s back door step seeking to become a witch, purely a woman’s job on the Disc.
There are also cameos for other much-loved characters, appearances by almost-forgotten friends and the signature humor. Underlying it all is Pratchett’s unfailing humanism. For Pratchett, true evil is treating people as things, and the villains in Crown do nothing else. That humanism never deserted Pratchett. He had every reason to be bitter, robbed of the tools that made him great unconscionably early, at the peak of his powers. Crown, despite its sometimes elegiac tone, is a cheerful book.
WC has acquaintances who could barely make themselves read the book, knowing it was the last. WC can understand.
It doesn’t belong in the children’s section. And it isn’t the place for a new reader to start. The Tiffany Aching novels need to be read in order; start with Wee Free Men. But it is a Pratchett, and even an unpolished Pratchett is a gem. WC only wishes it were not the last.
UPDATE: WC has read a lot of reviews of The Shepherd’s Crown. One phrase, from David Lloyd’s review for the The Conversation best captures, WC thinks, the marvel of Crown.
This is a book for all ages, the tour de force of one of the English language’s greatest authors, who, in the midst of encroaching darkness and facing so many terrors of his own, has contrived to astound us one last time with his craft.