All aboard Pratchett’s latest

Mark
Mark Vaughan-Jackson
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Raising Steam
By Terry Pratchett
Doubleday; 375 pages

Raising Steam
By Terry Pratchett
Doubleday; 375 pages

I’ve said it before — every new title from Terry Pratchett comes with a special dose of unexpected delight.

When he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years ago (2007, to be exact), I had a moment of mourning and feared that was it, that I’d never have a new Discworld tale — or at least only a few more.

Since then, he’s proved me and the rest of the world wrong.

In fact, from our end as readers eagerly anticipating the next book, it seems the only change is Pratchett now uses voice technology instead of a keyboard. (Apparently he has a rare form of Alzheimer’s which primarily attacks spatial awareness rather than the more familiar memory-eating affliction.)

Either way, I for one am delighted that Sir Terry continues to put out new works — Discworld or otherwise.

And so we turn to “Raising Steam,” Pratchett’s 40th Discworld novel and his third featuring Moist Von Lipwig as the central character.

Lipwig has become Pratchett’s latest in a long line of central characters who, for a book or two, become the focus before the author shifts back to a different part of the Discworld and a different protagonist.

This has been part of Pratchett’s secret of longevity.

I’ve said it before: most big sci-fi or fantasy series choke on their own success after five or 10 books.

Discworld hasn’t — not after five, not after 10 or 20 or 30 or even now after 40.

Just when you wonder whether yet another storyline featuring Granny Weatherwax will work, he changes tack and hits you with a Commander Vimes story, or a tale from one of the other countries clinging to the surface of the Disc, on top of the four elephants atop the Great A’Tuin, the giant pace turtle.

These changeups keep things fresh, allowing Pratchett to keep on revisiting the creative well that he found way back in Book 1.

Like the other Lipwig tales, Pratchett seems to have a great deal of fun putting his hero/anti-hero through his paces.

We first met him in “Going Postal,” as a shyster, fraud peddler and charming conman.

Back then he’d just been caught by the still wonderfully Machiavellian Lord Vetinari, tyrant of Ankh-Morpork, and offered a choice — death or a job as one of Vetinari’s troubleshooters.

Needless to say, he took option B.

Now, having turned Ankh-Morpork’s postal service, national bank and royal mint into moneymaking, smoothly operated machines (See “Going Postal” and “Making Money”), Lipwig is thrown another trouble to shoot at.

Thanks to a bright, flat-hat wearing, sliderule-wielding engineer Dick Simnel, the magic of steam locomotives is about to be unleashed upon the Disc.

Vetinari sees the potential pros and cons and benefits and unleashes Lipwig at the problem.

What follows is a very Lipwigian explosion of ideas, commercial development and industrial revolution — with a few sparks and a lot of Northern England accents along the way.

As ever, Pratchett throws in a couple of curveball sub-plots, too.

This time it’s the continued inner unrest in the Dwarven realm, as Low King Rhys Rhyson struggles to maintain the new peace with Trolls and Humans while dealing with the unrest of the dwarvish religious fundamentalist, the Grags.

Again, as ever, Pratchett has a deft hand as he casts a gently satirical eye over everything from dwarven gender discrimination to goblin emancipation.

All in all, classic Pratchett that was great fun to read.

But, as has happened only once or twice in the 40-book Discworld superseries, this one wasn’t quite as good, quite as funny, quite as captivating as some of the others.

I can’t put my finger on it, but certain passages just didn’t read as smoothly as I’m used to with Pratchett’s prose.

There was, perhaps, a tad less zest in my overall enjoyment, a feeling that it could have, should have been just that little bit better than it was.

It’s a minor complaint.

I still thoroughly enjoyed myself and Pratchett continues to maintain a pretty dominant position in my bookshelves.

It’s just that while “Raising Steam” was good, it wasn’t his best.

And with 40 books in the series, I reckon he’s allowed one or two where, perhaps, he wasn’t quite at the pinnacle of his game.

Still and all, it was damn good read.

Now then, Sir Terry, let’s be having No.  41!

Mark Vaughan-Jackson is The Telegram’s features editor and resident Discworld fanatic. He can be reached via email at mvj@thetelegram.com.

Twitter: @Telebookmark.

Geographic location: Northern England

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