While there are many Discworld novels I haven’t yet read, this completes the three featuring con-man turned bureaucrat Moist von Lipwig, the others being “Going Postal” and “Making Money,” and I’ve enjoyed all three. Terry Pratchett knew how to make trickster characters appealing and his clever plots are always a treat. After reinventing the Discworld postal service and central bank, this time the focus is on the invention of Dick Simnel, this world’s first steam engine. Brilliant but unsavvy Simnel is taken under the wing of canny businessman Harry King, who soon sees that steam trains are going to revolutionize travel as well as make lots of money. Lipwig has a somewhat secondary role as the front man for the construction of rail lines to the far reaches of Discworld through areas that are barely known and often full of dangerous residents like anti-progress dwarfs who try to sabotage the project at every turn, and landowners who must be bargained with to allow the trains to roll through their property. Bargaining is what Lipwig is best at, but at times he is barely ahead of his boss Lord Vetinari’s intense desire to get the entire world included. The end of the book is a thrilling ride through many perils with Simnel’s first and best locomotive to avert a war in the kingdom of the dwarves.
This was the last Discworld book published during Pratchett’s lifetime, the 40th, and the story is not as well-crafted as some earlier ones I’ve read. Too many plot threads and characters vying for attention, for one thing. It’s a fun read all the same and recommended.