“The Shepherd’s Crown” was the last novel Terry Pratchett completed before his death, except, he didn’t really get the time to finish it. The whole story is there from end to end but the book fades as it goes along.
Reading it was like starting with a fully finished movie where the lighting, music, script, and acting have been edited into something richly textured and powerful and starting to be presented with the unedited rushes. Each scene is there but Terry Pratchett’s usual magic, his ability to make the prose sing, to deliver huge ideas at a scale that gives them meaning to us mere mortals, his ability to make me believe in the supernatural and care about the people, isn’t there.
I’m glad I read the book. I wouldn’t have missed the start for anything. I cried when I lost Granny Weatherwax early in the book. It may seem extreme to cry over the death of a fictional character but I’ve known Granny Weatherwax for more than thirty years and Terry Pratchett made her death real to me. Of course, my tears weren’t just for her. They were what happens when you fall through a trap door and are immersed in past grief that doesn’t accept that it’s past.
This ability to link Discworld to real-life experience has always been part of the power of Terry Pratchett’s writing. He reminds us of our humanity, of our loves and our losses, of our bravery and our cowardice and he helps us accept ourselves and each other for what we are.
Yet as I got further through the book, I begin to feel the story losing its grip on my imagination. It’s a good story but reading gave me an experience broadly equivalent to when you see actors doing a first read-through of a script, everything is there except it isn’t living up to its potential.
Reading this almost-but-not-quite-finished book gave me pleasure but it also made me aware of just how much I miss Terry Pratchett.