Raising Steam. Book Review

Raising SteamRAISING STEAM by Terry Pratchett 

Doubleday, h/b, 384 pp, £20

Reviewed by Rebekah Lunt

I was luckier than an Ankh-Morporkian who has survived consumption of the culinary delight that is CMOT Dibbler’s sausage inna bun to receive the new Discworld novel for review. If you got the reference there, and are fully aware that Raising Steam is the 40th Discworld novel and that it is the 30th anniversary year of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, you really don’t need to read this review do you? Just get along and read it already! You will find everything you expect and more.

For anyone else, read on… And then rush out to buy this and potentially all the 39 other novels…

Raising Steam is the story of how the age of steam came to the Discworld; of the first and best train; of its reet gradely creator and genius in harnessing steam, of the first fat controller, and the burgeoning business around steam-powered travel; and yes, of the first train-spotters too.

Running on parallel tracks are the satire and political wit regular readers will have come to know and love; of the tyrant Vetinari and his management of politics and peace, not just in Ankh-Morpork but in all of Discworld; of a civil war between dwarfs, some of whose fundamentalist stances threaten the development of this brave new world; of goblins and their gradual acceptance as people, alongside the humans, trolls, dwarfs, werewolves, vampires and zombies of Ankh-Morpork’s melting pot; and of the life and times of one Moist con Lipwig, nearly-respectable crook and general greaser of life’s wheels.

As always with anything written by Terry Pratchett, this is a fantastically entertaining story. In all honesty, as with most of the other 39 novels, you could probably read this one as a stand-alone story. However, having recently started reading them all again from the very first novel – The Colour of Magic, I can’t imagine why you would want to do yourself out of the pleasure of full immersion in this world. One of the extremely pleasurable aspects of this story in the 30th anniversary year is to revisit familiar characters and places alongside the new ones, and look out for all the name checks and in-jokes.

An extra treat, and the real beauty of the book, is the way in which it expresses and translates the emotional power of steam trains for converts and non-believers alike. I love steam trains anyway but this book made me feel a little of what I imagine first experiences of steam trains must have been like.

I must admit that, despite this, I approached the book with a little trepidation – being ever aware of Sir Terry’s health condition means that fans can be forgiven for wishing for an all too sadly unrealistic fairytale ending for him. At times it can feel that the rules and all caution are being thrown to the wind as we race through the world he created, wishing for more, more, more, endlessly. I must make clear though, that these are my own feelings and thoughts being read into the work of one of my favourite writers – there is still present an abundance of Pratchett’s continued mischievous wit and cheery abandon. In fact, if there are melancholy notes, these are soon chugged along in the steam of nostalgia, shared history and all those memories. This is summed up in no better way than in a quiet moment between crises when Moist gets to dance on the roof of a moving train. Sheer bliss!

I genuinely cannot recommend this book highly enough. Pratchett could be forgiven for resting on his laurels at any point in his career, especially this far along. Instead, he gives fans a beautifully imagined and constructed anniversary gift, and another new wonder for first-time visitors to the Discworld to experience.