Book review: The Shepherd’s Crown, by Terry Pratchett

Pratchett, Terry. The Shepherd’s Crown. (Discworld series, “A Tiffany Aching book.”) HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2015. ISBN 9780062429971. 276p. $18.99 Gr. 7-up. P8 Q10

Pratchett Shepherd's CrownThere’s something deeply abhorrent to me about writing a review of Sir Terry’s last book, so this won’t be a review, but rather a meandering discussion of “hiddlins t’ git wee ones an’ bigjobs t’ read them.”   Crivens this will be hard! Let me first say that nearly every tome in this 41-book Discworld series might be read as a stand-alone, but getting the history and context of the characters makes them far more interesting. Fortunately, this is a series that has multiple starting points, as illustrated by http://www.ibtimes.com/terry-pratchett-discworld-order-books-most-date-version-1845410.   (BTW, if you are unfamiliar with Discworld, you might wonder why International Business Times would host this article. It’s an understatement to say that this series is one of the most popular in Europe; there are Discworld conventions that make our ComicCon gatherings look like potlucks.) Pratchett, who died last spring from Alzheimer-related issues, was a prolific author who wrote mostly fantasy, some deeply humorous, but all grounded in the irony of our humanity.   His Discworld characters: Nanny Ogg, Cohen the Barbarian, Nobby Nobbs, DEATH, Lord Vetinari, et al. are so rich and real that readers become obsessed with them. There are spinoffs of Shakespeare, Kafka, and Twain plots represented in these books, but readers don’t have to be well-read or British to get the jokes.   However, as a young adult librarian, it’s nice to have an idea of who your Discworld readers might be, before you invest shelf space in any or all of this series.   Teens and pre-teens who express interests in dragons, Dr. Who, Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman, witches, steampunk, or Harry Potter might be easily hooked on Discworld. Younger readers are easily engaged with the “Witches” branch or the graphic novel treatments of the “Rincewind” branch. Disaffected or “ironic” teens relate to the “Death” selections, simply because the irony is so poignant and funny. Steampunk fans will be easily hooked on “Moist von Lipwig” books, and young feminists may be thrilled to discover the hidden truths in Monstrous Regiment, one of the books that does stand alone.   There is no question in my mind that the entire series should be available at public libraries, at least by interlibrary loan.

Alright – back to The Shepherd’s Crown, the last book of the series, and the final book in the “Witches” branch. The reading level of this book is young, as are the rest of the “Witches” branch books, but it is fraught with many adult jokes and the action is fast-paced enough to entertain readers of all ages. Not to spoil things, but a beloved Discworld character dies in this book, and young witch Tiffany Aching is in charge. In between snipping old men’s toenails, she manages to save the world and train a – gasp – male witch.   Pratchett has used the Oxfordshire, England hills (the Chalk) as a setting for Tiffany’s home place, and it gives a rich background to the epic battle that occurs there between the elves and the witches.   While this book might be read as a stand-alone, the reader would gain more insight by starting with the first book in this branch, The Wee Free Men.

October 2015 review by L.F., NHS Staff

[Editor’s note: The Shepherd’s Crown is the fifth book featuring Tiffany Aching, witch.  The five-book sub-series to the Discworld cycle begins with The Wee Free Men, followed by Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, and I Shall Wear Midnight. The book was published posthumously.]

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