Friday, December 5, 2014
Review of Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett (Doubleday, 2013)
Raising Steam is the 40th Discworld book in Terry Pratchett’s hugely successful fantasy/satire series. I’ve read all of them bar two. All of the books are consistently inventive, warmly humorous and satirical, and full of interesting characters and plots. Raising Steam focuses attention on two main themes and their juxtaposition -- the creation of new technologies and how they can transform societies and produce new issues, and the rise of extremist religious groups that hold highly traditional and conservative views and want to mould society in their vision. It’s an interesting tension, but in this case the story nonetheless feels like two quite different narratives being jammed together without ever fully blending. Moreover, while the book is in the fantasy genre, there were inconsistencies or convenient plot devices that felt clunky, some characters felt surplus to requirements, and there are sub-plots that go nowhere. For example, despite growing up relatively poor, Simnel’s mother just happens to have a fortune in the attic to fund the initial development of an engine. And when Simnel travels to Ankh-Morpork to demonstrate the engine he has to set up a track to do so; somehow the big, heavy engine made the journey without rails, but now needs them to run. We’re told of a wedding massacre and a young dwarf visiting his family being attacked, but these then sink without trace. The result, for me, was one of the weakest books in the series. Full of nicely penned characters (and there are an awful lot them, many from previous books snuck in for small cameo appearances), and packed with snippets of railway lore, but the plot not quite running on track.