Mark Reads ‘Raising Steam’: Part 18

In the eighteenth part of Raising Steam, Moist joins a large team to keep the Low King safe. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld. 

There is so much of this book left, y’all. Well over a hundred pages! And we’re already at a part of the story that feels like the endgame. The dwarf plot and the railway plot are now one and the same, so even though this is a heavily qualified team, and even though Moist feels good about his chances, you better believe I am still going to be worried. But that’s me. Granted, Pratchett really doesn’t do “negative” endings, but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be a casualty in all of this, you know?

Still, I have to admit that I’m impressed. Aside from one POV from the delvers, this entire split tracks Moist as he deals with the complications of moving the Low King to Schmaltzburg in secret. And these people have seemingly thought of EVERYTHING. It’s very cool that there are so many recognizable characters in these scenes, too, like how Harry King, Effie, Vimes, Sybil, Adora Belle, Rhys, Vetinari, and Moist ARE AT THE SAME DINNER TABLE. Y’all know how much I love it when characters who don’t interact are suddenly INTERACTING ALL THE TIME. Here, there’s discussion of what will happen (though Moist is vague about what Simnel’s logistics—ahem, loggysticks—will be), but I found it much more entertaining to see everyone gang up on Moist after Vetinari pokes fun at him. YES. VERY GRATIFYING. But as a reader of the Discworld series, I experienced something else here: Pratchett’s joy. The entire sequence at Harry King’s house just oozes happiness, in the sense that it feels very much like the author having the best time imaginable with this vast world and cast of characters that he has created. He doesn’t seem bored by any of this; the book doesn’t seem like it’s an author just painting-by-numbers, you know? Because I think all of us can think of a series that felt like it was just phoning it in by the end.

Anyway: let’s talk about this plan. So, first surprise I got was Vimes sending off a coach with Cheery Littlebottom in it, dressed in a way so as to make any potential assassins think they’re chasing after the King. Of course! Brilliant! Why not use multiple decoys? Rhys already left one behind, and as we come to discover, Vimes didn’t even plan on just one coach bound for Uberwald. There was at least one other one with the royal crest on it. HOW MANY MORE ARE THERE. Because I love the idea that a ton of the delvers are completely distracted and confused by a ton of coaches that all seem to be carrying the same person. (Also, this definitely torpedoes that weird theory I was holding that there are like… eight grags. Okay, that sentence earlier in the book had to refer to Ardent’s closest dwarfs, or else this would all look way different.) While there is fighting—both the decoy coaches are attacked—there’s a part of me that loves this because it’s about winning this war through being clever, rather than brute force. 

Part of that cleverness is in the disguises, and Pratchett seemed just as delighted to write Moist as getting to return to his roots, so to speak. Moist deceived people on sight for a living before he did it… for a living? You know what I mean. He’s more into like… benevolent deception these days? But now, he gets to PRETEND TO BE ANOTHER PERSON so he can HIDE IN PLAIN SIGHT. With Rhys!!! And yet, as fun and entertaining as this is, my favorite part of it all kinda had nothing to do with the two of them? After getting to Sto Lat, I was touched by the scene at Mrs. Simnel’s house, who we haven’t seen since the VERY beginning of the book. I had no doubt that Dick Simnel was a good son—even in those early bits at the beginning of the book, he clearly loved his mother. 

But here, in her home and before Dick arrives, Moist gets to see a side of Mrs. Simnel that her son most likely doesn’t. She is the proud mother. Her son changed the entire world, and he did so without following the same path as her deceased husband. So, on that level, she’s thankful, but look at what she shares with Moist. She’s a talker, yes, but she’s not bragging for the sake of it. This is flaunting. Rather, she knows her life has changed for the better, but it’s because her son treats her with respect and kindness, not because he just has more money. It’s clear that Dick constantly thinks of doing nice things for his mother. He sends fresh food every day, including stuff (like a lobster) that Mrs. Simnel doesn’t even know how to cook. He gives her lots of money, and he never tells her what to do with it. She lets her decide how to spend it, and I know that seems like an obvious thing, but I think it speaks to the kind of son Dick is. This isn’t about controlling anyone; he just wants her to be happy.

I wonder, then, if that is the reason Mrs. Simnel behaves strangely toward the end. She brings up the fact that she’s only ever lost one child as a midwife, then has a number of moments that Moist can’t read, and she refuses to tell him if something is wrong. I can’t help but think of her plea to Dick at the very beginning: What if she’s afraid that this whole scenario is how her son will get killed? Not by train engines or live steam, but politics? The possibility of him getting harmed in all this has to be on her mind, and it’s a longtime fear of hers, you know?

Just thinking out loud.

This split ends with another scene in the dark of a cavern occupied by grags, who are plotting their attack on the train. I think it’s interesting that Pratchett spells out what is likely to happen here; it’s not what I would have expected. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing! There’s still a lot that is unknown, even though the artificer that the grags exploit and then murder gives them a lot of crucial information. So, the idea presented by this is that the grags are probably going to “deprive the engines of the basic necessities—fuel and water—and then attack them” at some point after that. When they’re “high in the mountains,” I assume? Even if that’s the case, Moist is more or less assuming that all of this is going to happen, right? We know he’s expecting an attack in the wilderness, and he knows there are other ways to fuck with the train aside from derailing it. So I don’t see this as Pratchett spoiling the tension. Basically: I’m still nervous as HELL, mostly because there are just so many variables here. There are so many things that could go wrong that neither side is necessarily planning for.


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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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