Terry Pratchett – The Shepherd’s Crown

I did it. I read the very last Discworld novel. Mind you, I still have a lot of books in the series to catch up on, but my favorite sub-set – the Witches and Tiffany Aching – is over. As expected, it was as much the author saying goodbye to his books as it was another goodbye. My boyfriend actually preordered the super expensive special edition (with the golden slip case) for me, only to be told a few weeks ago that – oops – no more copies available, after all, despite a successful preorder. I would be grumpier about that if the fact that it’s the last Discworld book wasn’t so terribly sad. Now I’m just… even sadder, I guess.

shepherds crown

THE SHEPHERD’S CROWN
by Terry Pratchett

Published by: Harper, 2015
Ebook: 276 pages
Series: Discworld #41
Tiffany Aching #5
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence:  It was born in the darkness of the Circle Sea; at first just a soft floating thing, washed back and forth by tide after tide.

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…

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I had a feeling long before this book was published that there would be a character death coming up. Most people knew what was coming, and it does happen in one of the first chapters. But if you’re really worried about spoilers, stop reading now. I can’t write about The Shepherd’s Crown without talking about… the thing, so anything after this paragraph is spoiler territory.

tiffany aching

Tiffany Aching has grown up a bit and is now a proper witch of the Chalk, taking care of all the business that witches concern themselves with. Whether it’s cutting an old man’s toenails or doing someone’s laundry, Tiffany doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty as long as she can help others. It’s what witches do, after all. She already has both hands full of work when news reaches her of something that we all expected to happen sooner or later. Granny Weatherwax has died. Despite knowing it was coming, the chapters building up to Granny’s death and the chapters just after she has gone were some of the most touching Pratchett has ever written. Granny, in her eternal Granny-ness, makes all the preparations, weaves her own coffin, cleans her hut, and asks her bees to be as kind to her successor as they were to her. I cried like a baby.

Nanny Ogg knows that Granny didn’t want a big fuss made about her funeral but Granny was such a respected witch that people from all over the Disc come to pay their last respect. Even Ridcully shows up, mournful and nostalgic about a love story that could have been. Death himself, who is normally so serene about his job and the people he helps to cross over, is sad about this one. But the Disc doesn’t stand still and Granny’s successor is to be Tiffany Aching – to noone’s surprise except Mrs. Earwig, who thinks she is much better suited to the job. But when even the cat You decides that Tiffany is the new leader the witches don’t have, it is settled.

Tiffany now has to deal with two steadings, two sets of people in need, and she is straining under the stress of travelling back and forth between the Chalk and Lancre. The big bad of this last Tiffany story is one who has tried to take over the world before – the Fairy Queen. This felt as re-hashed as it is, complete with another visit to the Fairy King, Magrat donning her trusty old armor, and the witches all working together to defeat a common foe. In Geoffrey Swivel, a man who wants to be a witch, we also have a beautiful conclusion to the Witches subseries. Remember in the very first book about the Discworld witches, Eskarina wished to be a magician, not a witch.

Plot-wise, this wasn’t a strong book. Even the language is noticably weaker, with many repetitions (“There will be a reckoning”) and none of the well-known little lines of wisdom that stick in your head long after you’re finished reading. But it is very much a book full of goodbyes. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that many, many characters from earlier books show up again or are at least mentioned. We see Miss Tick, Agnes/Perdita, Magrat and Verence, Eskarina, Granny Aching is mentioned along with Thunder and Lightning, even Horace the cheese gets his moment. To me – and this is pure speculation – it read very much like Terry Pratchett’s goodbye to his characters and if that turned out a little repetitive, remembering all their adventures, I can’t really fault the author for that.

It was impossible for me to read this book out of context. Were Sir Terry still with us, were this another among many Discworld books, I’d say it was a weaker Tiffany book, althugh still a pretty good Discworld novel. But it is not just one among many, it is the last one, and I felt like crying all the time while I read it. The Shepherd’s Crown may not stand too well on its own, but as a look back on all that has come before, it is just right the way it is.

MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Very good

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Second opinions:

Terry Pratchett – I Shall Wear Midnight

This is it. Tiffany Aching’s story is over, at least for now. Terry Pratchett said in an interview that, were he ever to continue telling Tiffany Aching’s story, the next book would have to be an adult novel because Tiffany would be grown up. Now that’s a thought I like. That girl kicked ass when she was nine and picked up a frying pan, just imagine what she can do as a fully-grown witch…

i shall wear midnight2I SHALL WEAR MIDNIGHT
by Terry Pratchett

Published in: Corgi Childrens, 2010
ISBN: 9780552555593
Paperback: 424 pages
Series: Tiffany Aching #4
Discworld #38

My rating: 9/10

First sentence: Why was it, Tiffany Aching wondered, that people liked noise so much?

It starts with whispers.
Then someone picks up a stone.
Finally, the fires begin.
When people turn on witches, the innocents suffer. . . .
Tiffany Aching has spent years studying with senior witches, and now she is on her own. As the witch of the Chalk, she performs the bits of witchcraft that aren’t sparkly, aren’t fun, don’t involve any kind of wand, and that people seldom ever hear about: She does the unglamorous work of caring for the needy.
But someone or something is igniting fear, inculcating dark thoughts and angry murmurs against witches. Aided by her tiny blue allies, the Wee Free Men, Tiffany must find the source of this unrest and defeat the evil at its root before it takes her life. Because if Tiffany falls, the whole Chalk falls with her.
Chilling drama combines with laugh-out-loud humor and searing insight as beloved and bestselling author Terry Pratchett tells the high-stakes story of a young witch who stands in the gap between good and evil.

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The Discworld sub-series about the young apprentice witch Tiffany Aching has been consistently good, but was never more touching than in this final volume. As Tiffany grows older, so do the themes the author explores. Most striking, this book takes a very dark turn and recounts some of the more terrible things human beings are capable of doing. Tiffany, however, takes these things with her usual calm and the knowledge that she is doing the best she can, as any good witch would. While the first books can be put into children’s hands without second thoughts, there was one scene in particular in I Shall Wear Midnight that I found shocking, even as a grown-up. When a young girl, who is pregnant, is beaten by her father so violently that she loses the child, Tiffany is the one who will try to make things right. Or as right as they can be in such a situation. Clearly, being a witch of almost-sixteen means trodding darker territory than ever before.

In the way he does so well, Terry Pratchett manages to lift his readers’ moods by being absolutely hilarious. While I loved Tiffany’s visit to the actual Boffo, there were numerous moments that elicited chuckles, laughter, and sometimes hysterical giggling on my part. I feel like I’m repeating myself because, honestly, Pratchett does what he’s been doing for the last few books, and does it as well – if not better. While Discworld is a funny place, it is usually the little moments of wisdom, of bravery and kindness, that get to me and make these books so memorable.

And so, because nobody in the castle had ever been very enthusiastic about the dungeon, everybody had forgotten that it had a chimney. And that is why Tiffany looked up and saw, high above her, that little patch of blue which a prisoner calls the sky, but which she, as soon as it was dark enough, intended to call the exit.

I have talked a lot about Tiffany as a character and a rolemodel and someone I would want to be friends with if she were real (or I lived in Discworld). But, wonderful as she is, I must metion the side characters. Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg only have a short cameo in this book. In their stead, we get to see a lot more or Roland and the lady Letitia (whose name is “halfway between a salad and a sneeze”) and her horrible snob of a mother. Just as I got comfortable hating certain characters and joining Tiffany in thinking nasty thoughts about them, Terry Pratchett reminded me that, despite their faults, these are still people with their own worries and dreams. Making every single character so very human that I can believe they are real (if only in my mind) is a feat that more authors should try to accomplish. Even characters we only see for one little scene get enough depth to make them three-dimensional.

midnight wearerAs I said above, the plot is a lot more sinister than in the previous books. Tiffany is neither hunted by a hiver, nor wooed by the Wintersmith. Instead, she has a much creepier, and more dangerous, creature to deal with. A creature that brings out the worst in people and a perfect villain, if you ask me. I enjoyed seeing Tiffany do her regular witchy work, although it does require watching people die at times, or helping a young girl recover from a beating, but her trip to Ankh Morpork definitely added another layer of fun to it. Not only does she meet certain officers of the Watch and visit Boffo’s, but another familiar character from the early Discoworld books makes an appearance.

The last thing I want to mention is the romance. Or lack thereof. Or the turning-on-the-head of the non-existing romance. You know… Sir Terry takes tropes from fairytales and fantasy literature alike and shows Tiffany (and us readers) that tropes aren’t actually rules.

And Tiffany… went back in time, just for a second. But in that second she was a little girl again, reading the well-thumbed book of fairy stories that all her sisters had read before her. But she had seen what they had not seen; she had seen through it. It lied. no, well, not exactly lied, but told you truths that you did not want to know: that only blonde and blue-eyed girls could get the prince and wear the glittering crown. It was built into the world. Even worse, it was built into your hair colouring. Redheads and brunettes sometimes got more than a walk-on part in the land of story, but if all you had was a rather mousy shade of brown hair you were marked down to be a servant girl.

Terry Pratchett doesn’t just show us that this “rule” goes both ways (what if a blonde girl wants to be something other than a glittering princess?) but also that its bullshit. Young girls with mousy brown hair, take heart. The other trope that was clearly subverted is the love story, even the love triangle. Now Tiffany is not immune to jealousy but she is also a clever and resourceful girl who trusts her Second and Third thoughts when they tell her the difference between love and friendship.

I am truly sad that this wonderful journey is over and can only hope that Terry Pratchett writes another book about the coolest witch I’ve ever read about.

THE GOOD: Brilliant characters, hilarious moments, a strong heroine dealing with tough situations.
THE BAD:
It’s the last one in the seires!
THE VERDICT:
Still as highly recommended as three books ago. Tiffany has stolen my heart and I already long to go back to her universe, the Nac Mac Feegles and the witches. Although I like none of them half as much as I like Tiffany. These are the kinds of books I wish I could have read when I was little.

RATING: 9/10  – Close to perfection

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The Tiffany Aching Series:

  1. The Wee Free Mentiffany aching series
  2. A Hat Full of Sky
  3. Wintersmith
  4. I Shall Wear Midnight

Terry Pratchett – Wintersmith

Aaaaaaand we’re back. I like it when book series continually grow and become better as they move along. Terry Pratchett has created a wonderful heroine with Tiffany Aching and so far, every book has been better than the last. I’m already sad that I only have one more Tiffany-book ahead of me but, hey, maybe Sir Terry will write another adventure for the plucky young witch. I’m certainly crossing my fingers.

wintersmith2WINTERSMITH
by Terry Pratchett

Published by: Corgi Childrens, 2007 (2006)
ISBN: 9780552553698
Paperback: 384 pages
Series: Discworld #35
Tiffany Aching #3

My rating: 9/10

First sentence: When the storm came, it hit the hills like a hammer.

Tiffany Aching is a trainee witch — now working for the seriously scary Miss Treason. But when Tiffany witnesses the Dark Dance — the crossover from summer to winter — she does what no one has ever done before and leaps into the dance. Into the oldest story there ever is. And draws the attention of the Wintersmith himself.
As Tiffany-shaped snowflakes hammer down on the land, can Tiffany deal with the consequences of her actions? Even with the help of Granny Weatherwax and the Nac Mac Feegle — the fightin’, thievin’ pictsies who are prepared to lay down their lives for their “big wee hag.”

dividerOh Tiffany, how much richer YA literature has become because of you. This 13-year-old girl may be clever and kind, but even young witches listening to their second and third thoughts sometimes make mistakes. This is a book about such a girl, making a rather big mistake – and then dealing with it, making things right again.

Tiffany Aching is now apprenticed to a new witch, the frightening and very odd Miss Treason. Now that’s a witch the way you imagine it. Blind and deaf, she borrows the eyes and ears of unfortunate creatures around her. May I draw your attention to the (beautifully detailed) cover, with her two seeing eye crows perched on her back? Tiffany wouldn’t be Tiffany if she didn’t just accept that Miss Treason is strange and get on with the job. And I was as surprised as Tiffany when certain things are revealed about the terrifying old lady in the black house. Terry Pratchett has created an entire cast of characters that is lovable and diverse and – despite their witchiness – utterly human. Up until now I thought Granny Weatherwax was the coolest person on Discworld but Miss Treason may just give her a run for her money.

Tnac mac feegleiffany is slowly growing up and makes sure everybody knows that Roland is not her beau but simply a friend who writes letters. Ahem. I was delighted to see more of Roland in this novel and couldn’t help shouting “awesome” whenever he outsmarted his terrible aunts. But then, I had the urge to shout “awesome” on nearly every page. Whenever we don’t get to see interesting and highly amusing sides to people’s characters (Granny Weatherwax now owns a kitten called You), Terry Pratchett lets us in on the secrets of Discworld. I will never forget a certain Boffo, nor the trip to the underworld with the Nac Mac Feegle. But this book isn’t called Wintersmith for nothing and while the story is still centered around Tiffany Aching growing up and becoming a witch, Pratchett managed to build his own mythology by creating the Wintersmith and the Summer Lady. Needless to say, I loved every bit of it.

I was introduced to a Discworld regular in this volume. Nanny Ogg – who lives at Tir Nani Ogg (that still cracks me up so much) – is not only a kind, apple-faced old lady but from what’s between the lines, she used to get a lot of attention from the men. And enjoy it. I couldn’t be happier to see a female character who may or may not have lead a promiscuous life but isn’t judged for it. Plus, she and Granny Weatherwax have been best friends for ages, that makes Nanny Ogg cool from the get go. I used to think the Guards were my favorite Discworld inhabitants but looking at these last Reviews of Gushing Love, I may be more of a witch girl… (*furiously juts down Witches books on top of TBR list*)

Most of this book is laugh-out-loud funny, with jokes ranging from silly to clever to absolutely idiotic. I chuckled constantly. But again, Sir Terry adds a deep and serious layer to it and shows us that his characters are more than just stand-ins for a good joke. In the last book, Granny Weatherwax said that witches can work together, hard as that may be, and here we get to see exactly that happening, in one heartbreaking and glorious chapter. Maybe I like Tiffany so much because, apart from her powers and cleverness, she is simply a good person. If helping her enemy means making sure that innocent people won’t be hurt, she’ll do it in a heartbeat. That’s the kind of rolemodel I’d want for my children and I’ll be sure to put these books into all the pudgy little child-hands in my family.

THE GOOD: A fun, adventurous story about growing up, making mistakes and taking on responsibility. Full of hilarious moments, characters I fell in love with, and even a trip to the underworld.
THE BAD: I liked the ending, but it felt a bit chaotic.
BONUS: Granny Weatherwax has a kitten!
THE VERDICT: If you never heard of Tiffany Aching, go pick up The Wee Free Men now. If you enjoy good YA fiction, like to laugh and watch brilliant characters grow up, this is for you.

RATING: 9/10  – Close to perfection

dividerThe Tiffany Aching (Sub-)Series:

  1. The Wee Free Men
  2. A Hat Full of Sky
  3. Wintersmith
  4. I Shall Wear Midnight

Terry Pratchett – A Hat Full of Sky

There were many things I loved about The Wee Free Men, first and foremost its wonderful heroine, Tiffany Aching. But there were also things that bothered me. Now I feel like some part of me secretly went back in time, told Terry Pratchett all of that, he took it into consideration and continued to tell Tiffany’s story only leaving the good bits in. Yes, that is delusional and silly, and no, I don’t actually believe it. Whatever made him write this book the way he did, I am glad about it, because it is fantastic!

hat full of sky 2A HAT FULL OF SKY
by Terry Pratchett

Published by: Corgi, 2010 (2004)
ISBN: 9780552562911
Paperback: 368 pages
Series: Discworld #32
Tiffany Aching #2

My rating: 9/10

First sentence: It came crackling over the hills, like an invisible fog.

‘WE SEE YOU. NOW WE ARE YOU . . .’
No real witch would casually step out of their body, leaving it empty. Tiffany Aching does. And there’s something just waiting for a handy body to take over. Something ancient and horrible, which can’t die.
To deal with it, Tiffany has to go to the heart of what makes her a witch. Get past the ‘I can’t’. But even with the help of the Nac Mac Feegle – the rowdiest pictsies on the Disc, who like facing enormous odds – she still might not be able to win herself back . . .

dividerTiffany Aching, now eleven years old, is ready to take on her apprenticeship as a witch. She expects spells and magic, not the chores she shares with Miss Level – a witch with a rather peculiar personality quirk, if you can call it that. Tiffany learns that there are many sides to being a witch, and that weaving spells or doing actual magic is just a small portion of what witches do. But even though she is doing well and learning things about herself and the world, Tiffany doesn’t know that she’s in danger. A creature is pursuing her. And in this creature, Terry Pratchett has created one of the best villains Discworld has ever seen.

You have to love Tiffany Aching. At eleven, she is still as practical as ever and I’d gladly see more children reading these books and seeing her as a rolemodel. She knows that life is full of lessons, especially the life of a witch, and she takes on her responsibilities like a grown-up. Tiffany deals with problems head-on, doesn’t shy away from unattractive tasks, and still relies on her second and third thoughts. I loved everything about this girl and about the way Pratchett portrays her – and the other witches – in his books. Tiffany is a many-layered, strong protagonist. She is the opposite of a trope, a girl who knows what she wants, makes friends with other girls, but also a girl who has to deal with her own problems.

hat full of sky frenc I was delighted that the Nac Mac Feegle played an important role in this story. They may be the comic center of the tale, but despite their swearing, their love of fighting (and Special Sheep Liniment), they are fiercely loyal to their wee big hag and would gladly risk their lives for her. These little blue men aren’t merely there for comic relief or cute effect, they are central to the plot and responsible for saving Tiffany, when nobody else could. Rob Anybody especially grew on me. Where in the first book, the Feegles kind of blurred in my mind into one big mass of swearing, blue men who steal sheep, their personalities were more distinct and well-rounded.

Terry Pratchett manages, yet again, to mix his wonderful humor with a great story and suspense. The hiver, mysterious and truly scary, made for some quite frightening moments and I asked myself more than once how on earth Tiffany would make it out of this mess. Thank heavens Granny Weatherwax makes an appearance, not only because she nudges Tiffany in the right direction whenever she needs nudging, but also because she is one of the coolest people on Discworld. Tiffany, Granny Weatherwax, and the incomparable Miss Level gave me fits of delight – because they are a celebration of women and Terry Pratchett’s keen eye on humanity is reflected in them.

“Believe me, witches can act together if they must. It’s harder’n herding cats, but it can be done.”

If you can’t tell by now, I’m having a really hard time finding things to criticize here. Of course, Pratchett’s humor isn’t everybody’s cup of tea and I am not a huge fan of his earlier Discworld novels myself. But this was another brilliant combination of silly, clever, and serious – and A Hat Full of Sky may just have kicked The Amazing Maurice off his pedestal and turned into my favorite Discworld novel. For now, at least…

THE GOOD: Wonderful characters, a great plot driven by a multi-layered villain, hilarious dialogue and narration – and lots of hats.
THE BAD: If you don’t like Pratchett’s humor, you won’t like Pratchett’s books. That’s all I can think of, seriously.
THE VERDICT: A children’s book series that I cannot recommend enough. If you’re like me and were a bit unsure about The Wee Free Men, keep reading. This book explores deep themes without raising a finger, Tiffany is a flawed but incredibly lovable character and I dare you to not care about her, the Feegles, Miss Level, and Granny Weatherwax after reading this. I also dare you to stop reading the series after this book. Ha!

RATING: 9/10  – Nearly perfect!

dividerThe Tiffany Aching (Sub-)Series:

  1. The Wee Free Men
  2. A Hat Full of Sky
  3. Wintersmith
  4. I Shall Wear Midnight