Raising Steam – Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett’s novels fall into two distinct groups, those which are very funny and engaging, and those which seem disconnected and have that feel of being written quickly without the usual due diligence. When they are good they are very, very good and when they are bad they are horrid. I think it depends on the characters who appear as the central characters. Rincewind, Sam Vimes, the witches, they all appear in jolly good readable novels. It’s as though Terry Pratchett takes more time over them because they are favourites. Novels which aren’t so strong have characters we don’t care for, the plots are shallow and I get the feeling that they have been written in a hurry to fulfil a contract, there’s usually the semblance of a joke in there but never enough to stretch to a full novel, XXXX springs to mind, Small Gods and quite a few of the ‘stand-alone’ novels where the characters are present for just the single or maybe two novels.

Terry Pratchett on song though is worth the odd near miss. So where does Raising Steam fit on the Pratchett spectrum? Raising Steam is a Moist Lipwig novel, Moist Lipwig the saviour of the Post Office and the Bank. He’s not one of my favourite characters, things are too easy for him, whatever the odds he always manages to win – he’s a great believer in deus ex machina, even for Discworld his escapes are not really credible. But to its credit the tale does have Sam Vimes and Vetinari so it could pull through.

It doesn’t though. Often Pratchett has an idea which he works and works. Soul Music: the music industry, XXXX: Australia, the links are easy to see, they don’t always make for a good book but it’s a successful formula. The theme of this book is the railway, the steam railway and maybe that is where the trouble starts because the steam engine suddenly becomes a major character but one without character, goblins play a big part, as do dwarves, the Guards but there’s never enough to pull it all together. The plot is fragmented. I think it might just have worked with the railway, but the dwarves rebellion (is this a dig at religious fundamentalism?) just doesn’t fit well. It’s as though there a few plot threads which have become intermingled without making a whole.

The whole plot is rather thin. Too many characters. Loose ends – what happened to the goblin’s underground train? I thought that might have played a part in the long journey to the dwarves hinterland, but no, it was built up as an idea but then the idea was never developed.

There is a long train ride building up to the climax. The train comes under attack, but nothing really happened, and it happened slowly and I didn’t care. As I got towards the end of the book I felt it could easily have been written by Enid Blyton. Nothing happens and everyone is happy at the end. That may be the overall impression of Terry Pratchett’s books but usually they are written with humour and he makes us care for the characters. I didn’t care for anyone here. Even the well-loved Sam Vimes and Vetinari didn’t come out well.

It’s a train crash of a story. Not one to read again. I shall go back to read about Rincewind.


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