I first encountered Terry Pratchett’s writing in college. I was working part time at a comic book store in between classes and they carried all the Discworld books Pratchett had written up to that point. I’m a sucker for fantasy and I was looking for a new series, so I picked up the first book, The Color of Magic, thinking the description on the back sounded fun.
It was better than fun. It was amazing. I proceeded to spend paycheck after paycheck, picking up the rest of the books as fast as I could read them. I doubt I really made any money whatsoever that summer, as it all was funneled into my new paperback collection.
Sir Terry Pratchett (he was actually knighted for his contributions to literature) wrote 41 novels in his Discworld universe, which is probably his best-known series. The stories are based around a fantasy world that is literally a disc held up by four elephants riding on the back of a giant turtle floating through space (trust me, it makes a tiny bit more sense in the books). It features characters such as a lovable personification of Death, an orangutan librarian, ridiculous wizards, a con-man gone straight (although still very crooked), vampires, werewolves, and the occasional Igor, as well as witches, golems, and a very set-upon city watch. Pratchett had a way of crafting characters so skillfully that it is easy to fall in love with their stories.
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Pratchett used his tales to teach lessons and wielded his humor like a sword to cut away the nonsense of our world in writing about his own. His books often have me alternately laughing and crying between his witty turns of phrase and the issues about which he wrote. He inspired multitudes of graphic novels, board games, plays, computer games, role playing games, and films, as well as over a generation of readers and writers. Sadly, Pratchett passed away March 12, 2015 and it was announced that The Shepherd’s Crown would be his last book published. The Shepherd’s Crown is the 5th book of the Tiffany Aching series, set within the Discworld collection.
The main character of the series, Tiffany Aching, is a young girl who, through her own ingenuity, common sense, and bravery, kills monsters, befriends Nac Mac Feegles (think six inch tall, belligerent Scotsmen), and becomes a powerful witch. The books (The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, I Shall Wear Midnight, and The Shepherd’s Crown) cover 7 years of her life between the ages of 9 to 16. During that time, Tiffany goes on many amazing and dangerous adventures, but this last book is more than just another tale of her ability to outwit fairies and rescue young men.
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The Shepherd’s Crown pits Tiffany against an old foe, the Fairy Queen. As the fairies prepare to invade the world, Tiffany must strap on her boots and rally all the witches to war. But first, she must say goodbye to an old friend and mentor. Her story deals with death and learning to carry on afterwards. I believe it was Pratchett’s way of telling us how to carry on after his own death. As an ending to the Discworld series, it is as poignant as the time the 10th Doctor (from Doctor Who, of course) stated “I don’t want to go.”; a moment which still gets me teared up to this day. While reading this book on my way to work, I spent several subway rides trying not to cry (sometimes successfully). If you don’t know the series or the Discworld books in general, The Sheperd’s Crown is not the place to start. It is an amazing tale, but you need to have the emotional attachment that comes from reading the previous books to truly appreciate it. Many old characters and themes make reappearances and, without having read about their stories, they won’t have the emotional impact.
That said, The Shepherd’s Crown is not all tears. Tiffany is a strong girl and her friends, the Feegles, are a hysterical bunch that help lighten mood with their antics. Who can stay sad with lines like “In Boffo’s Novelty and Joke Emporium in Ankh-Morpork, all the whoopee cushions trumpeted in a doleful harmony…”
I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to the fantastic and brilliantly illuminated universe of Discworld than The Shepherd’s Crown. It is possibly one of Pratchett’s best Discworld novels and it gives a sense of closure that I’ve never, never gotten with any other fantasy series I have read. If you want to dip your toes into Discworld’s ocean of stories, you can start with The Wee Free Men and follow Tiffany through her journey. If you are ready to take the plunge and enjoy all that Discworld has to offer, then start with The Color of Magic. The official reading order of Pratchett’s books can be found on his website. I have been reading these books for years and I freely admit they are my favorite fantasy novels of all time. I will never forget how Terry Pratchett touched my life and I hope he will bring joy to yours as well.
Are you a Terry Pratchett fan? Did you enjoy The Shepherd’s Crown? What’s you favorite book in the series? Let us know in the comments below!
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