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Raising Steam   by Terry Pratchett

Read: 2015-09-01 Reviewed: 2015-09-03
Re-read factor:

It is well-established that Terry Pratchett has a universe in which he can be, and is, as diverse as he wants to be, especially with regards to ethnicity and race relations. Nevertheless, it is hard to place a slim, athletic, straight-forward Yorkshire engineer in the midst of trolls, goblins, dwarfs, vampires, fat policemen, etcetera (he's Yorkshire to my mind at least, as that's where I also hail from); in a land where everybody is universally extreme, mediocrity is not a virtue that can be emphasised enough.

This is a pre-industrial age in which the bright son of a bright but fatal engineer picks up his father's work and invents the steam engine, nay, fully-formed railway locomotive. In the first half of the book the concept gains traction (very quickly) in the societies that inhabit Discworld, and is pushed along by the prototypical industrialist and politician each of whom seek to collaboratively further their own prospects in the world, along with their top management. The second half of the book sees the new technology's impact by managing to convey a King to one of his most distant outposts which is on the verge of falling from his realm. It turns out to be an epic voyage as the train finds itself under attack at every step and turn. The track itself is still being completed as the journey starts, and provides some extra complication to the plot. There are times where an encounter seems to go crash, bang, whollop, and an army is defeated, but in the main Pratchett manages to keep the prose flowing and invents enough interest that monotony and triviality are kept at bay.

The closing pages sees the King declare her true self as a female, re-take the throne of her distant land, and everybody lives happily ever after. While the final showdown is deliberately anti-climatic, Pratchett imbues the scene with such humanity that the book closes on a poignant apex so sharp it cuts to your own outlook and makes you believe that, from now on, the world is a better place.

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