Pratchett, Terry. The Shepherd’s Crown.

NY: HarperCollins, 2015.

This is the fifth and last book about young Tiffany Aching, Witch of the Chalk and Wee Hag of the Nac Mac Feagles. It’s been sitting on my shelf for a year, waiting for me to read it, because it’s also the last book by Sir Terry that I will ever be able to read for the very first time. And that’s a hard thing to do. Since it also begins with the death of Esme Weatherwax, the most powerful and by far the most influential witch on Discworld, it’s also about death and about replacing the irreplaceable: The last lesson Terry wanted to teach us.

Yes, Granny’s dead, but she had a good innings for a very long time, and witches know when they’re about to die, so she made certain she went in the proper way, and without a lot of fuss. She hated fuss. She left a big hole, which someone now has to fill, and she also left a note behind which said the person to fill it ought to be Tiffany. Of course, Tiffany already has a hatful of responsibility, helping the people of the Chalk, which is a long broom-flight from Granny’s forest cottage in Lancre, but she tries hard to make a go of it, flying back and forth a couple times a week. But it’s exhausting and she knows she’s really not doing right by either of her clienteles. She needs a couple of assistants at one end or the other, some young girls with the right talent whom she can train up to deliver babies and clip old men’s toenails. And that’s where — just maybe — young Geoffrey comes in. He wants to be a witch, traditionally a job for a woman — but at least one woman became a wizard once aupon a time, so why not? The lad is a calm-weaver, and that might be just what’s needed. And maybe it’s time for a new broom, too.

But decisions have to be made, because the elves, in their own world on the other side of the stone circles, have also noticed Granny’s departing. Tiffany threw them out of our world in the last book, but things are weaker on our side just now and maybe the elves — who are nothing at all like the saccharine fairy tales — can regain a foothold. That would not be a good thing, and all the most powerful witches on the Disc will have to come together and cooperate to fight them off. And that’s not easy because “two witches make an argument,” but needs must. Time for Queen Magrat to get out her armor again.

It’s a pretty good story and not a bad one for Sir Terry to be going out with. It reads differently, but that’s unavoidable, given that his many fans will react in much the same way as the people of Discworld do to Granny’s passing. I’ve read the whole series through two and a half times over the past thirty years and I think I’m going to put them all away for a few more years and then see if I can’t discover Terry’s amazing stories all over again.

There has been an outcry, by the way, that this book is somehow a “fraud,” that someone else must have ghostwritten it from an outline, or something. Because some people don’t think it’s as cheerful and zany as a Pratchett novel ought to be. If they read the Acknowledgements and the Afterword, they would know different. He certainly did write it — he was still polishing it, with the physical assistance of a few close associates, at the time of his death — but he was also acutely aware that it would be his last book ever and that inevitably meant a more somber tone. And, as noted above, he had one last lesson to pass on.

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