This is pure, distilled Pratchett. It has all the elements I love the most about his books, with the mellow, thoughtful tone which he developed in his later writing. It’s so good I read it in hardback and didn’t even complain.
Mau is left alone on his island when his community is destroyed by a tidal wave. He is joined by a shipwrecked noblewoman, and they begin the process of reconstructing a society.
This provides the framework for an exploration of myth and culture, religion and politics, personal and collective history, power, authority, caste and gender.
Before he can engage with these big questions, though, Pratchett pays good and respectful attention to the personal needs of his protagonist. I have a mental library of PTSD in literature (ranging from the Pip in ‘Moby Dick’ to Tony Stark in the recent Iron Man film), but this is the first I’ve found which puts equal emphasis on the horror, the pragmatic and protective value of dissocation, and the role of human relationships in recovery.
Pratchett’s writings around religion are perhaps the closest to my own beliefs that I have found in fiction. C S Lewis was a slightly smug Christian; Philip Pullman, an abrasive and critical atheist. Pratchett writes thoughtfully and – dare I say – spiritually about the stories we tell to help us to understand the world, and the responsibility of every individual, guided by their needs, knowledge and social status, to decide what value to give to different pieces of doctrine. His thesis appears to be that although many religious teachings are not ‘true’, that doesn’t mean that they don’t contain truth; they simply have to be treated with caution.
And the ending is Just Right.