The Shepherd’s Crown : A fond farewell to the Discworld

All of our reviews contain spoilers, but in this case, an added warning and some white space seems appropriate.

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The Shepherd’s Crown is the final book in the Discworld series, which has spanned decades. The theme is that the death of a person leaves a space in the world, but that’s alright. Death is inevitable, it is prepared for, and although no-one steps into the place of the missing character, people step up to do what needs to be done. It’s a euology, written by the author, for himself. I enjoyed it, but have some reservations.

Neil Gaiman notes, for example in this interview, that Terry Pratchett had planned a different ending for the book, and had hoped his unfinished works would be destroyed rather than published. In the book itself, Pratchett’s assistant notes that The Shepherd’s Crown has not gone through the usual process of polishing for a novel in this series. This explains why the writing is uneven. Some of the scenes are wonderful, but the material which tacks them together isn’t developed in patches. In the climactic scene the theme is muddy: is Tiffany so powerful because she puts others first, which lets her draw on the power of the land, or is she strong because she has supernatural stubbornness? Is her strength that she is focused on her community, or is that she has a heart of flint when she needs it?  There are obvious loose threads around You, Preston and Mephistopheles, any of which would be fine on its own, but when the book has so many, it makes it looked raggedy in places.

I’m pleased Terry Pratchett had the time to finish this little cycle within the larger work. I understand his daughter’s decision not to continue the series, preferring to create her own worlds. It’s hard to see how his distinctive authorial voice could be captured, even by someone who knew him familiarly, unless they shared the political passions which lie, only slightly covered, under the surface of the plots.

I recommend this book to fans of the series. I recommend the first book in this little cycle, Wee Free Men, to any teenager or adult who likes fantasy stories.