Continuing my increasingly, but almost complete, read-through of the delightful Discworld series by the late Sir Terry Pratchett.
Today’s entry is on the 40th book, Raising Steam.
First Appearance: Does it matter? The only remaining book is a Tiffany Aching adventure featuring the witches.
Introduced to Discworld: the railroad; religious extremism (?)
Plot: A brilliant young engineer, Dick Simnel, has invented the locomotive. As the railroad becomes the latest fad interest on the Disc, Lord Vetinari, the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, demands his best scoundrel, Moist von Lipwig, get some measure of city control over the invention.
Meanwhile, the Low King of the Dwarfs is dealing with an extremist faction of the grags, the judges of the dwarf kingdom, who are out committing acts of terror against clacks towers and murdering dwarfs who aren’t acting “dwarf enough” in their view. When the Low King is away from the Scone of Stone, the grags take over his kingdom. The King needs to get back to his seat of power and fast.
It falls upon Moist, Dick, and the usual gang of oddballs to get the King back on a rail line that isn’t even finished yet. Can they succeed and bring peace back between the dwarfs and the rest of the Disc’s many species?
Commentary: Something happened with this book, and I am not sure it was a good thing. The Goodreads reviews all noted more or less the same thing: that none of the characters were really behaving like themselves.
That turned out to be true. Perhaps owing to the progress of his Alzheimer’s, Pratchett’s work here seems…incomplete for the lack of a better word. The humor isn’t as sharp and seems to be limited to very bad puns. Some of the footnotes are still good for a chuckle, but the book as a whole just didn’t seem all that funny. And the characters were behaving a bit off. Vetinari was losing his temper and resorting to more direct threats than usual. Moist was a lot more fearless than he usually is, even deliberately doing stuff to tweak Vetinari directly in a manner that he would have known better than to do. Likewise, Moist spent a good deal of time going around like everything’s fine rather than his usual making-it-up-as-he-goes-along style of near panic. Adore Belle, here Moist’s wife, is missing her sarcastic edge. Even side characters that don’t do much for the plot, like Sam Vimes, seem to be playing it more straight than anything else. There’s little humor here.
There’s also an inordinate amount of speeches. Characters seem to feel they need to give speeches in a manner that seems out of place for Pratchett.
As it is, the book works as a quasi-sequel to both Snuff and The Fifth Elephant. Perhaps Pratchett was looking to wrap things up a bit before he died. Perhaps he couldn’t resist using the grags as some sort of stand-in for groups that use violence to attempt to create “purity” for their chosen belief system. It’s hard to say. There is an inordinate number of pointless cameos of popular characters running around here. About the only ones missing are Captain Carrot, the Librarian, and the various witches who are appearing in the final book. And yet, aside from a conversation between Fred Colon and Nobby Nobbs here and there, very few of the characters appear to be behaving like themselves.
One Goodreads review did suppose that, with the invention of something that seems magical but works entirely off science and math, the Discworld was growing up. Given that we learn Moist, William de Worde from The Truth, and even perhaps Nobby Nobbs are all settling down in marriage or close to it, there may be something to that.
Still, I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone other than a huge fan of Pratchett and his series to begin with.
LAST BOOK: Tiffany Aching is back for one last go-around, and she’s going to need the help of all the witches on the Disc to battle an old enemy. Be here soon for The Shepherd’s Crown.