Book Review: Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

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So I am a man of eclectic tastes. Some things I like are popular and well-known, others are rarer finds. In some cases, I like really weird entertainment, while other strange stories are too weird for me. In this case I’m writing about a strange author that is relatively popular known as Terry Pratchett. I will be reviewing his fortieth Discworld book, Raising Steam, published in 2013, the last one published before the author’s death in 2015.

I had first heard of Pratchett from a relative of mine who was a fan of his works. It should be noted that I only read four of the Discworld books, which includes the first two, and two others whose order I do not know of at the moment. In reading those previous books, I was unsure of what I made of them. Now that I am doing book reviews, I want to see if my opinion has changed.

First and foremost, Pratchett has a unique way with words. He can tell a story by switching which character he is following at any paragraph. Provided you get through his frequent wordplay, he writes well enough to limit confusion, even through the narrator switching who he is following.

His writing uses lots of humorous elements. These include puns, rhyming, alliteration, funny sounding words, unique character names, and pretty much any sort of wordplay that tickles his fancy. There are some real gems of the sort in his books. Even so, some of the wordplay does fall a little flat from time to time, but it is rarely disruptive as he uses it throughout the books I have read.

Steam
Cover art for the book Raising Steam.

Now that I have informed you of Pratchett’s writing, let me tell you about the book Raising Steam in particular. The book starts out with an engineer named Dick Simnel inventing the locomotive, a novelty not seen yet in the Discworld series. He proposes to the ruler of the city of Ankh-Morpork, Lord Vetinari, to use his invention to transport people and freight, obviously. With the help of Businessman Harry King, and a one time scoundrel turned post master Moist von Lipwig (yes, that is his name), the train turns into a prosperous business venture.

In addition, these characters have to deal with a group of religiously fanatical dwarfs called the Grags, that violently oppose the invention of the railroad. Much of the book covers getting the train system off the ground and its impact on the world, as well as settling the conflict with the Grags and dealing with the recent social changes both are creating.

Even though the book can be funny, there is a fair amount of insight concerning the creation of locomotion, social changes, and yes even racial relations. Since this book takes place in a medieval fantasy world, race is handled metaphorically by humans, dwarfs, goblins, trolls, and the occasional gnome.

I am also surprised at how well Pratchett describes how trains work and impact the world around it. In a lot of ways, it feels like I traveled back in time to see how people reacted to seeing a train for the first time. I could even see the thought process of how Moist figured out what kind of help needed to be hired so a train system could work in a realistic fashion. It is clear that Terry Pratchett did his homework.

I could tell you much more about this book, but it might be best if I summarize the pro’s and con’s, and let you the reader figure out if this book is worth a read.

Pro’s:

  • Book is full of humorous wordplay that can’t be found by any other author.
  • lots of insight concerning modern life, especially with social change.
  • Quite informative on the invention of the train and railroad system and its impact.

Con’s:

  • Pratchett’s writing can be quite strange.
  • Some wordplay does fall flat, but not disruptively so.
  • Those unfamiliar with the Discworld books might be a little lost. Luckily, there is enough context to figure most of it out.
  • A plot twist near the end is a little strange, but not unbearable.
  • This book doesn’t have chapters, so finding a good stopping point may be tricky. This is a small complaint, and doesn’t impact the final score.

So, what is the final verdict?

8.5/10 A Great book, but a possible acquired taste.


So that was what I thought of Raising Steam. Did you read this book and have another opinion? Should I cover more Discworld stories? Have any other suggestions as to what book I should review next? Let me know all this and why in the comments below!

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