And here it is: the 40th in Terry Pratchett’s wonderful Discworld series, which I spent much of this year re-reading. In terms of the series, it’s a sequel to Going Postal and Making Money in that its main viewpoint character is reformed (mostly) conman Moist van Lipwig. Err, but it’s also a sequel to Thud! and Snuff, in that Sam Vimes plays a major role, and that it follows up on the events at Koom Valley and the matter of goblins. So it could be viewed as tying up loose ends, and it has been suggested that this might be the last in the series.
But enough of such speculation, and on with the book itself.
Over the years, the Discworld, or more particularly Ankh-Morpork has been morphing from a more or less off the shelf medieval fantasy society to something more like Victorian England, and in Raising Steam that transition would appear to be complete. Steam has arrived, and arrived in style. And trains are going to be even more disruptive than the Clacks, the ever-advancing telegraphy system. Now, not only will messages be transmitted faster than was ever dreamed of, but now people and goods can be moved faster than any non-magical means ever dreamed of.
And part of the book is a story of the development of the railway from a single engine doing demonstration laps to a long distance service, with the action spreading over many months. Things are made more interesting by the involvement of Moist van Lipwig, who’s almost a reformed character these days
There was a difference between a banker and a crook, there really was, and although it was very, very teeny Moist felt that he should point out that it did exist and besides, Lord Vetinari always had his eye on him.
And Lord Vetinari has his eye on the railway, too, which is why he puts Moist in charge of a very important and difficult plan to get a line all the way to Uberwald.
But there’s more. Not everyone is all that keen on progress, and the grags – the most err, deep-down of the deep-downer dwarfs really don’t like the railway. They move on from destroying clacks towers to attempting to disrupt rail travel, especially that line to Uberwald. Though their motivation for that may have more to do with not wanting their King to get back and stop the coup they’ve managed to start.
It wasn’t as if the grags were holding hard to yesterday; they hadn’t got as far as this century.
As the railway gets closer to Uberwald, the danger grows, and it’ll take the combined efforts of Sam Vimes and Moist to get the King back where he needs to be.
And there’s more. Goblins, having been declared to be just as much people as everyone else, are making themselves very useful everywhere. Not only do they make excellent clacks operators, but it turns out they’re really useful on the trains.
There’s the usual bunch of references and gags, including a fat controller, and a dwarf with the delightful name of Dopey Docson. Lots of laughs, loads of danger, an unexpected side to Lord Vetinari, and Sam Vimes changing his opinion on Moist. What more could you ask for?
If this is, as some people have suggested, the Last Discworld Book Ever, which given Terry’s state of health seems depressingly likely, then at least the series is going out on a high point.