The Shepherd’s Crown
by Terry Pratchett
‘A SHIVERING OF WORLDS
Deep in the Chalk, something is stirring. The owls and the foxes can sense it, and Tiffany Aching feels it in her boots. An old enemy is gathering strength.
This is a time of endings and beginnings, old friends and new, a blurring of edges and a shifting of power. Now Tiffany stands between the light and the dark, the good and the bad.
As the fairy horde prepares for invasion, Tiffany must summon all the witches to stand with her. To protect the land. Her land.
There will be a reckoning . . .’
This is the review of the fifth book in a series and contains mild spoilers for the previous books and important spoilers for this one.
The circumstances in which the book has been published make it incredibly hard for me to give it a rating, I both love it and find it incredibly painful to read in equal measure. It is, in essence, unrateable.
There is definitely something unfinished about The Shepherd’s Crown, possibly exacerbated by the large cast of characters and a multitude of subplots that are – in cases – only hinted at. It is as if the book – like the great man himself – has been moved on before it’s time. Indeed, in the foreword it says explicitly that Pratchett had been unable to edit the book as much as he would have wanted. Whilst the story has a clear progress from beginning to end, Pratchett’s traditional side stories and divergences remain sadly under-developed. For instance, we are given some resolution to the question of Eskarina’s son, if not any actual answers. It feels like a book that is still in need of a couple more drafts, in order to allow for Sir Terry’s natural brilliance in pulling together inferences and previous story strands to come through. But those are drafts that we will never receive, so we must appreciate what we have.
But my biggest problem in this book, is the death of one of my favourite characters in the first few chapters. BIG SPOILER HERE. Granny Weatherwax dies. I had a feeling it was coming, why else would Tiffany have You and the bees on the front cover? She has a good death as death’s go. She knows it’s coming so she sets everything in order and makes her peace with the world before she goes. Her whole attitude to the situation is so practical and matter of fact, so utterly Granny Weatherwax. It’s heartbreaking. Her final conversation with death is brilliant but also incredibly upsetting. It feels like a definite insight into Pratchett’s state of mind, which is largely why I spent most of this novel with a box of tissues. I told you I was going to cry didn’t I? What really did me in was the section after Granny’s death with Nanny Ogg. I defy you to read that dry eyed.
There is still, of course, Pratchett’s trademark humour, his canny eye for the absurd, his skill with character and, beneath it all, a heart as strong as Tiffany’s flint. Pratchett’s undeniable brilliance continues to shine through.
There are many things that I did really enjoy about this book. I love that we’re revisiting the enemy that acted as a catalyst for Tiffany becoming a witch in the first place (alongside what happened to the old lady in the first book). I also love that we get to see the faerie in a different light.
There are a lot of issues at play here, family expectations and work/life ratio in the form of Preston and Tiffany’s relationship, the fate of the elderly man and the wonders of having a purpose – even if that purpose is a shed – and, of course, a reversal of gender roles in the young male witch Geoffrey. I really enjoyed the fact that Pratchett made the peacemaker a young man who was trying to find his way in the world.
One of the best things that Pratchett has done in the Tiffany Aching series, is refuse to marry Tiff off according to the conventions of story. She becomes friends with Roland and his new wife rather than marrying him herself and she seeks to make her own way in her relationship with Preston. When Tiffany remakes her grandmother’s shepherding hut at the end of the novel I was done for, she is determined to forge a new path – a meeting between the witchcraft of Granny Weatherwax and Granny Aching – and I choose to believe that she manages it. Tiffany has been apprenticed to many other witches throughout the series, but I love that it is these two witches – who were never her direct mentors – who have influenced her so much.
I also love Mephistopheles the goat and You the cat. There’s elements of Gaspode and Greebo here, in Pratchett’s canny ability to give animals a personality and an almost mythical quality. A true highlight of this book to me, is when You finally speaks to Tiff at the end – there’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
My feelings at the end of the book, were very much like Death’s in that final image after his conversation with Granny Weatherwax. Desolate, but incredibly aware of the tremendous pleasure we’ve had in the knowing of the person who has passed. What Terry Pratchett has done for Literature is, quite honestly, incalculable. Every book he has written has been a pleasure to read and this one was no exception. To quote Death’s words to Granny Weatherwax – “YOU HAVE LEFT THE WORLD MUCH BETTER THAN YOU FOUND IT, AND IF YOU ASK ME, NOBODY COULD DO ANY BETTER THAN THAT.”