Raising Steam is the newest of the sprawling Discworld series of satirical comedic fantasy written by Terry Pratchett, the fortieth to be published.
If you haven’t read any of the Discworld series, you really should give it a try. It takes place on Discworld, a world that is (as you might suspect from the name) a flat disc that spins on the back of four great elephants who stand on the back of Great A’Tuin, a spacefaring sea turtle. My favorites in the series include Small Gods, Interesting Times, The Hogfather, and Feet of Clay. The series as a whole is linked only by the world, not always by characters or countries or time periods, though there are kind of sub-series within the main series that follow certain groups of characters to give them an arc. But you can read the books in pretty much any order (you’ll just appreciate some of the little things more if you’re aware of where the series has already been.
Raising Steam, like most of the books in the series, mostly takes place in Ankh-Morpork, the melting pot city-state that reminds me of a mixture of New York City and Los Angeles, ruled by the semi-benevolent demi-tyrannical Patrician.
Raising Steam is the third book in a subseries about the character Moist Von Lipwig. In the first of the series, Going Postal, Moist was saved from the gallows by the Patrician for many crimes of thievery and fraud, in order to appoint him head of the Ankh-Morpork Post Office where letters have sat undelivered for years. His history as a con man prepared him well for business and marketing, and soon he has turned the place around and even made it profitable. In Making Money, the Patrician arranges for Moist to be the head of the Ankh-Morpork Mint, which he took to with similar aplomb.
Now his saga continues as improved techniques for manufacturing steam engines result in the invention of the locomotive and the railway it runs on. It is once again up to Moist to take a gargantuan task and put his considerable skills toward completing it.
And Moist is up to the task, as ever, working with engineer Dick Simnel, the designer of the first locomotive he dubs Iron Girder. Moist applies his marketing savvy and appeal to the common people to Dick’s very functional and practical designs, bringing in other competent players as needed for funding, land rights, legal counsel, etc…
I liked both of the previous Discworld books that starred Moist von Lipwig, because in those two books I felt that Moist really had to push himself to meet the challenge before him and I felt that the tension was well-maintained through those two.
In Raising Steam, I never felt like the outcome was even slightly uncertain. Moist has been so well established as a character that can adapt to and handle any situation. He’s an impressive person when his skills are in full use, but it takes a special kind of task to really make him appear to be challenged and I didn’t think the story of this book showed such a task. And there are so many other key players involved in the operation by the end who are all likewise skilled in their area of specialty that they are basically an unstoppable force. Obstacles in the book end up seeming like mere inconveniences when faced with such gross competence.
There were certainly some funny parts, but not really enough to carry the book by itself. And there were certainly some interesting developments in the book, particularly one late in the text involving the Low King of the dwarves, but it was only hinted at in the rest of the book so didn’t really seem like a defining plot event.
This ended up being probably my second least favorite Discworld book, right above Jingo. Which isn’t to denigrate the quality and power of the Discworld books in general. With forty Discworld books published in twenty-one years, it’s impressive that I like as many as I do. I’ve read thirty-nine of the forty published Discworld books and the remaining book (Snuff) is on my shelf awaiting my attention.