Raising Steam is one of the last books Terry Pratchett wrote and the second to last of his Discworld Series. Since I have only read his collection of short stories that he wrote as a teenager, Dragons at Crumbling Castle and Other Stories, I don’t have much to compare this book.
I had always heard that Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels were self-contained adventures within this long series (41 books) based in the same world. This is true, but what I learned is that I was missing a lot of background on some of these characters by not reading the books in order. The main protagonist, Moist Von Lipwig, is a character who has a past in multiple other books. Even though this adventure is completely self-contained, I was missing much about the dynamics of this character and his various relationships, most especially his wife, Adora Bella, a.k.a “Spike”.
I honestly was disappointed by this book, but after looking at the reviews of this novel, I believe 1) that this was not one of Terry Pratchett’s best books and 2) I should have read the other books first. The characters are interesting though they don’t develop much. The writing is good with the same sense of humor he had as a teenager in his short stories. The problem is the lack of a central plot. There is a very muddly middle in which lots of things happen for no particular reason except that it has to do with the train being built in this world. If you love trains, then this would be a great book for you. For me, I was bored with all the details of a train being introduced to a fantasy world in transition from a Tolkien-est world to a steampunk environment. Near the end of the novel, you have the excitement of a Dwarf coup and a daring train ride to save the day, but that is after two hundred pages of train politics.
Since I own the first book in the Discworld Series now, I will give Terry Pratchett another try. If you love trains, then I can recommend this book for any age reader. It is clean with restrained violence, no cursing, no love story or sex (just implied sex between a married couple, but a younger reader probably wouldn’t catch the implication), and no moral dilemmas beyond your basic scoundrel/trickster. For me, the book was a bit dull, with some random scenes thrown in for no purpose, but those who are fans of Terry Pratchett may understand what he was doing with this book better than me.