Terry Pratchett returns to the rich and vibrant Discworld with Raising Steam.
This is Pratchett’s third novel following the exploits of master conman and excellent civil servant, Moist Von Lipwig. He was introduced to us in Going Postal where he was given the choice of either rescuing the post office from obscurity or taking a final bow on the stage. We meet him again in Making Money. He has taken the post office and brought it back to life as well as introducing the clacks to the Disc. Now he is tasked with the revitalization of the mint and banking within the city of Ankh-Morpork.
Raising Steam picks up this thread of modernization that has arrived on Discworld and takes us into the age of steam. Our story begins with a son who has lost his father to the fevered dream of steam. He is determined not to fall prey to the this harsh mistress but to understand her. Dick Simnel, the Discworld’s first steam engineer, creates his first steam engine and comes to Ankh Morpork to continue his work. The birth of this new age is heralded by all the sound and fury that one expects from this momentous time in history with a good dose of humor that is in grained into the the very fabric of Discworld.
This tumultuous time can not go unsupervised though. To ensure that things go smoothly, Lord Vetinari enlists the best trouble shooter he knows, Moist Von Lipwig. What follows is not only an exploration of what the coming of the steam age would look like in a fantasy world but an insightful look at how we humans view change as it comes barreling down the rail at us.
As I was reading the book, I wondered at how the villains were such an visible representation of militant Islam. They go about burning down clacks towers and other terrorist acts. As the story progresses, Pratchett begins to weave a much subtler narrative. We get to see these grags, dwarfs for keeping dwarfs dwarfish, play up the fear of becoming irrelevant in the face of such sweeping change. This is something that echoes inside any conservative movement as it strives to stay relevant and yet maintain its identity. Unlike some genre fiction, these villains aren’t stereotypes and you can see how tings go wrong and you get to watch as even those who would be their staunches allies come to understand the changes that are coming and how they are worthwhile.
Raising Steam, like all of Pratchett’s novels, utilizes comedy in a fantasy setting to deal with the human condition in a delightful fashion. We get to see such issues as racism, sexism, and terrorism being dealt with in a fashion that is both enlightening and entertaining. These issues take the center stage without ever robbing the story of it’s inherent Pratchettness or Discworldyness.
The difference between Raising Steam and it’s predecessors lies in tone. Going Postal and Making Money introduces us to the characters that we see here in Raising Steam. The action there is done in broad strokes and grand style that packs a solid punch. Raising Steam plays the same instrument with a much more delicate hand. We get a more nuanced picture of Moist, Adora, Vetinar and others. Yes, these are the characters we have come to love over the long history of the Discworld. But here, we get to see character beats that shows us both character growth and endearing traits to make us love these characters even more.
In addition to all this, I had the distinct feeling that Pratchett was paying homage to Stephen King’s Christine at points throughout the book. Simnel’s first engine is a character that without speaking a line until towards the end of the book. She defends herself ably from the dwarfs that come to destroy her. When our engineer finally gets girlfriend, we watch as Moist wonders how these two women will react upon first meeting. He is there when the two finally meet and the tension is palpable and feels very much like a scene from Christine but with a far prettier outcome.
If you haven’t read this book, I strongly recommend going out and picking it up. If you haven’t read any of the this series, I am envious of you. you have a great experience awaiting you!