Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett Review

Ank-Morpork falls in love with the power of steam and the glory of the railroad in the 40th Discworld book

One of the greatest gifts the Mister ever gave me was to introduce me to the Discworld books.

Every single one of Terry Pratchett’s huge bibliography has been delightful and witty. Raising Steam (2013) is no exception.

If you aren’t familiar with Discworld, here’s a quick overview. This is a world full of wizards, witches, vampires, werewolves, dwarves, trolls, and goblins, but they more or less seem to be getting along. The major-ist city is called Ank-Morpork, and it is usually the driving force for “progress” on the Discworld. Over the course of 40 books, Pratchett has created dozens of fantastic characters, but I’ve always had a soft spot for the criminals. Moist von Ludwig is one of these underhanded but ultimately warm-hearted people. But by this time in his tale he is actually considered quite respectable. He is the oil that greases the wheels of progress, and the Patrician (ruler) calls on his skill set to oversee a new innovation.

Enter Dick Simnel, an engineer extraordinaire in a world that hardly has a word for his mechanical genius. Sure, they’ve used steam power in Ank-Morpork for some time, but they’ve never harnessed it for an engine the way Dick does. One by one, everyone falls in love with Simnel’s engine, Iron Girder. Despite the new engines he builds later, Girder is the one constantly being tweaked and improved. People admire her, one might even say worship, and in a place as full of magic as Discworld, that can have consequences…

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What I thought of Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

Even though this was obviously a Pratchett novel, in many ways it read like a alternate history of the Industrial Revolution employing his characters. The archetypes were all there: the maverick inventor, the investor, the politicians. Not to mention the public and their hunger for the newest, most interesting technology. There is plenty of wheeling, dealing, and even the occasional saboteur and daring rescue on the rails.

A small band of Luddite-like dwarves rises up to create havoc in the face of an ever-expanding, changing world. This made for an excellent analog to the feelings of many during the steam era. The goblins have been a very interesting addition to the Discworld books. The humanoid races are considered, if not equal, at least on evenish footing, for quite some time. In past books, the goblins were still being treated like animals or slaves, but they find a new niche by becoming deeply involved with the railroads and the “clacks” towers that convey long-range communications. It felt very much like an homage to the Chinese immigrants in America during the building of the railroads.

My only negative comment is that it seemed clear to me that Pratchett was aware this was his last book. He suffered from dementia before his death in 2015, and it felt to me like he was sort of “stuffing” this book with plots. As if he put in every subplot that could revolve around the railroad because he knew he wouldn’t get another chance. The result was this book didn’t have the tight efficiency that I have always admired in his work. It was still a delightful read, but it did go on longer than your average Pratchett. And it still had all of the delightful insights and turns of phrase that I adore. Even if you don’t read any other Discworld books, Steampunk fans will find something to love in Raising Steam.

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4 Comments on this post.
  • HOrDE
    16 May 2017 at 2:07 pm

    I have long been reluctant to begin reading Discworld, mostly because I simply didn’t know where to start. Despite this being his last book, I think this will be the one – for no other reason than this great review – thanks!

    • Phoebe Darqueling
      16 May 2017 at 4:13 pm

      It can indeed be daunting trying to figure out where to begin. I’ve seen some charts out there with recommended reading order. Even though there are dozens of characters, each story usually focuses on a small group. Personally, my favorites are the stories that center on the City Watch, but individuals make at least brief appearances in many of the books, and you wouldn’t need to really know that much about them to enjoy the scenes because Pratchett’s writing is just so witty and fun 🙂

    • Moriarty Viccar
      18 May 2017 at 10:12 am

      I always preferred the Rincewind stories. The way he managed to be the most cowardly person you’d ever read about while still saving the Disc was brilliantly written.

      • Phoebe Darqueling
        18 May 2017 at 1:05 pm

        Very true! I only have read one with him in it so far, but I liked him 🙂 Death, of course, is also really fun and shows up in pretty much every book

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