I haven’t read every Discworld novel yet. After I became a fan (something like 10 years ago) and then learned of Sir Terry’s illness, I slowed down because I wanted to savor the newer books while I re-read the old ones. Because of this, I only just finished reading Raising Steam.
Spoilers to follow.
To be honest, I was a little bit skeptical of Raising Steam before I started reading it, because someone had told me that it was terrible and that I shouldn’t read it unless I wanted my Discworld experience to end on a sour note (is this a common opinion?). It also took me a few re-reads of Going Postal and Making Money to truly love Moist Von Lipwig as a character, but now I have a lot of affection for him.
So, while I was apprehensive, I can absolutely say that I don’t think Raising Steam is terrible and it hasn’t soured me on the Discworld at all. It’s not the best Discworld novel, but it’s also not the worst, and an okay Discworld novel is better than most other books any day.
I’ll get the negative stuff out of the way first.
What I Didn’t Like:
- That the novel basically started with Harry King being heavily implied to having just hit his wife, if it wasn’t outright stated. It doesn’t matter that it’s also implied that she also hit him with a vase, because neither of those things are okay, and to my mind, unnecessary to the story. They could have just had a huge non-physical fight and everything would have been the same.
- I didn’t have an issue with Iron Girder basically being alive or referred to as “she,” because belief becoming reality is a great recurring theme in the Discworld. I got tired of the few implications that she would steam Dick’s sweetheart to death out of jealousy, though.
- Most of the references to the Ankh-Morpork children being obsessed with Iron Girder and wanting to become engineers were exclusively boys. Not all, but most, and there was no explanation given (like, girls being encouraged not to be interested in mechanics) other than that boys are somehow naturally more interested in trains.
- I felt that Moist becoming a fighter, both under the influence of the goblin juice against the grags who attacked and killed the railway workers, and on the train itself as it was making its way to Uberwald, was really out of character for him. He’d always prided himself on being a non-violent criminal (he says out of cowardice, but more likely because he just didn’t want to hurt anyone), and I felt that this departure from his established character wasn’t as believable as it could have been. Indeed, he almost becomes a little bloodthirsty as he’s briefly disappointed about how easily the coup is overturned.
- I thought Vetinari was just a touch too candid with Moist in this novel, but that’s a really small complaint.
- Moist reporting the grag attack to Angua included a really below-the-belt jibe on his part. He sarcastically implied that if Angua hurried to the scene of the crime, the dwarf bodies would still be fresh enough for her to eat. I get that he was under stress, but she was just doing her job and that seemed like a really bigoted thing to say to a werewolf who is conscientious about not eating people. Now, if he’d made some reference to Mr. Fusspot proposing marriage to her during the events of Making Money, I would have laughed myself silly.
- The building of the railway and the climactic journey to Uberwald would, in reality, take a long time. I’m glad that was realistically addressed, but I think it could have been paced more effectively.
What I Did Like:
- It’s never actually spelled out in the book, but Lu-Tze and Ridcully have that conversation about the age of steam coming to the Discworld sooner than it was supposed to. Dick makes reference to Ephebian texts about mathematics and obliquely references Urn’s steam-powered boat from Small Gods. We know that Lu-Tze was actually supposed to just observe the events of Small Gods, but he “meddled” enough to change things so that Brutha survived and basically reformed Omniism. Another side effect of Brutha’s survival is that he was able to copy down all of the texts he’d had time to memorize before the Library of Ephebe was burned down, and I like to think that this is the reason Dick was able to read those texts, learn from his father’s mistakes, and become the father of steam technology on the Disc.
- I really liked “watching” the genesis of the railway system, and as a safety professional I was gratified to Dick explain how he makes his engines as safe as possible, the safety measures that are put in place to control the hazards of technology while still using it, and what happens when people ignore those controls.
- How excited Drumknott was about the train, to the point where he asked for time off.
- Adora Belle. Always more Adora Belle.
- The fact that Cheery Littlebottom was not killed while playing her role as decoy for the Low King. I WOULD HAVE BEEN SO SAD.
- Rhys Rhysson. I have liked the Low King ever since The Fifth Elephant, and I was pleased as punch that she finally came out as female. Did this surprise anyone? I thought it was really heavily implied at the end of The Fifth Elephant that Rhysson was female, so I was actually expecting this at some point. Good on Albrecht Albrechtsson for supporting her. I think that while the gender politics of the Discworld dwarfs are not without their problematic implications, they are incredibly fascinating and I’m always happy when the narrative spends time on them.
- The way Vimes and Moist ended up coming to an understanding. They are kind of on opposite sides, but I feel like there’s a lot of mutual respect there.
- The goblins. I think the goblins are fascinating, extremely clever, and seem to have adapted quite happily to life in the city, recognized as people.
What about you, peeps? What are your thoughts on Raising Steam?