Shepherd’s Crown ( a book review and warning)

This is more like a public service announcement instead of a book review.

I finished reading Terry Pratchett’s last book, The Shepherd’s Crown and had mixed feelings about it. Pratchett wrote it before he died, he suffered from Alzheimer’s and took his own life earlier this year. He had been an advocate for the right-to-die movement and even wrote editorials arguing to change the laws in Great Britain. Assisted suicide is still illegal even though Pratchett killed himself with the knowledge and consent of his family and friends.

Shepherd’s Crown is the final book in his Tiffany Aching series, which was originally a trilogy. It’s a Young Adult book but might be categorized as Fantasy, Sci-Fi or even fiction depending on the bookstore or library’s whims. I enjoyed this book but I want to keep people from buying it and reading it.

If you see this book and think “I’ll just get this for my friend/family member who is still hurting and in  mourning, who needs a good laugh and distraction from grief” do not do it. I repeat, do not do it. Step away from the book. Put. It. Down. Now. Even if this is a person who loves Pratchett, fantasy, good strong female characters and puns, walk away from this book.

One of the best loved (and feared) characters in Discworld dies. Pratchett kills Granny Weatherwax, a old wise woman. Though she’s officially a witch she’s not the typical Macbeth/Halloween witch though she does wear a pointy hat. She’s not satanic or evil, there’s none of that here and she would be offended by the thought. Granny Weatherwax is a midwife, healer, herbalist and leader. She doesn’t do nice, she does what’s needed. She is a badass. I love her and she reminds me of my Aunt Donnie, who passed away 5 years ago. And that’s why I don’t want anyone in mourning reading this book, especially someone mourning a mother or grandmother. Anyone mourning anyone really, fresh mourning and grief are way too raw to read this book. Even if the person is a Pratchett or Tiffany Aching fan, suggest they re-read some other Pratchett book. If you are the person in question leave this book alone for awhile, trust me on this.

Granny Weatherwax’s death is handled beautifully and with care. Pratchett loved Granny too; he even dedicated Shepherd’s Crown to her. She faces her last day without fear, she knows what’s coming and prepares herself for her visit from Death and his horse Binky. She even makes her own casket and stakes out her resting place. She makes this painful event as efficient for those left to find her body and bury her. She even leaves a note, a will actually, on her chest. I cried reading these pages. They come at the beginning. The death of Granny Weatherwax is felt throughout the entire book, showing how a person’s life can affect people and events long after they have gone.

The simple descriptions of what she does and how Death finally comes was hard for me to read. It was very like what happened when Jerry died. He had a peaceful death, at home, and died sometime in the early hours, like Granny. It was difficult to read because my Second Thoughts were that Pratchett was dying when he wrote her death and how he faced his own mortality by sharing it with the world. Reading Granny’s death was painful and dredged up hurts I thought had gone away. Jerry passed away 15 months ago and I know there’s no way I could have read this any earlier. I hope no one starts this book thinking they can detach their own pain and grief, telling themselves that because Granny isn’t a real person it won’t be so bad. It is. It will. Put. It. Down.

What happens after Granny dies is going to be familiar. It’s like being poked with a stick, over and over, pointing out this detail and that reaction, in case you forgot, From not getting time to really grieve, like Tiffany and Nanny Ogg to dealing with troublesome people like Mrs. Earwig, it will be real.

There are feegles, fairies and jokes,even a passing Python reference, it isn’t grim throughout. Those things make the loss bearable but the loss is still felt and touches everything in some way. This isn’t a sad or depressing book, it is funny and has some great moments, great lines and there’s Pratchett’s cleverness. I will probably re-read it at a later date but only when I’m ready. I don’t know when that will be.

I’m going to listen to the rest of the Wings-Oilers game now.


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