2014; 381 pages. New Author? : No. Book #40 of the Discworld Series. Genre : Comedic Fantasy. Overall Rating : 7*/10.
Change is coming to Discworld. Dick Simnel has the idea, a working model of something he calls a steam-powered locomotive. Sir Harry King has the money, and the business acumen to know how to take Dick’s invention and turn it into a profitable enterprise. Moist von Lipwig has the persuasiveness, and he’ll use it to convince all sorts of people that living near a railroad is a desirable thing.
Of course, no plan moves in Ankh-Morpork without the blessing of Lord Vetinari. And although he travels around Discworld in a carriage, the potholes in the streets (especially those of Ankh-Morpork itself) makes him yearn for a comfortable seat in a plush railcar.
But not everybody is keen on change. Lately, someone’s been sabotaging the clacks towers, because that was something new. It is prudent to assume said perpetrators will also try to derail (pun intended) the plans for a network of trains. Perhaps Commander Vimes, aka “The Blackboard Monitor”, should be given the task of providing security.
What’s To Like...
Some of the book’s formatting is vintage Terry Pratchett. If you’re a Discworld footnote fan, there are 80+ of them for you here. There are no chapter divisions, although a couple maps are included, which is both very unusual and very handy.
I was delighted to see the Quirmians speaking French. Ditto for Lord Vetinari’s penchant for crossword puzzles. There are lots of dwarfs, trolls, and goblins. And some gnomes pop up, which is a species I don’t recall meeting before.
As always, Pratchett explores a number of themes in Raising Steam. First, there’s Industrialization – with its pros and cons, and the inevitable pushback against it. Second is the timely topic of Terrorism – how it operates and recruits, and how it pushes the buttons of discrimination and religious zealotry (“Tak says…”). Finally, there’s the recurring Discworld theme of racial (species, actually) bigotry.
The resolution to the main plotline is somewhat anticlimactic, as the highly anticipated showdown just sort of fizzles out. But Pratchett throws several little “twists” into the mix that tie up some of the secondary threads; such as Iron Girder’s true nature Rhys’ true nature, and Lord Vetinari’s actions. Overall, the ending is satisfactory, but not stellar.
Kewlest New Word...
Ginnungagap (n.) : in Norse mythology, the vast, primordial void that existed prior to the creation of the manifest universe. A Vikingism.
Others : Purdah; Murrain; Fossick (Aussieism); Bothy (Scottishism).
“And I see you are still smiling! Will you be so good as to share ze joke? The well-known so-called Ankh-Morpork sense of ‘umor does not translate very well here, I’m afraid.”
“Don’t be,” said Moist. “When the humors were handed out, Ankh-Morpork got the one for joking and Quirm had to make do with their expertise in fine dining and lovemaking.”
He held a beat and said, “Would you fancy a trade?” (loc. 2218)
The town of Big Cabbage, theoretically the last place any sensible person would want to visit, was nevertheless popular throughout the summer because of the attractions of Brassica World and the Cabbage Research Institute, whose students were the first to get a cabbage to a height of five hundred yards propelled entirely by its own juices. Nobody asked why they felt it was necessary to do this, but that was science for you, and, of course, students. (loc. 4345)
Raising Steam sells for $11.99 at Amazon. That’s to be expected of a recent release that is only otherwise available for $18.25 in Hardcover. ANAICT, none of the other Discworld books cost more than $5.99 for the Kindle.
”Any three dwarfs having a sensible conversation will always end up having four points of view.” (loc. 954)
Sadly, Raising Steam is another step down the slippery slope towards mediocrity for the Discworld series. Some of it is inherent for the subject matter. Industrialization is not a very exciting topic for a fantasy story, and the first 2/3 of the book just trudges along step by developmental step.
To boot, our four main characters – Vetinari, Moist. Harry King, and Dick Simnel – are all humans. Most devoted Discworld readers pick up a Pratchett book for the various other sentient creatures. Yes, we meet up with a bunch of “old Discworld” friends along the way, but they’re all cameo appearances.
The tone is also darker, even more so than the previous book, Snuff, was. There’s a lot of killing, most of it told in a decidedly non-humorous way, with only one victim encountering DEATH.
The storyline finally gets moving around 67%, and for those who have persevered, the last third of the book is a delightful bit of vintage Pratchett, with Sam Vimes and the Night Watch getting a lot more ink while saving the day against a determined foe. But that’s a lot of tedious pages to get through before getting to the good part.
7 Stars. In a nutshell, Discworld has lost its sparkle.