by Terry Pratchett



144pp/£12.99/October 2014

Mrs. Bradshaw's Handbook

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

In Raising Steam, Terry Pratchett introduced Dick Simnel and the Ankh-Morpork & Sto Plains Hygienic Railway, which was immediately used by Moist von Lipwig and Sir Harry King to increase their fortunes and, incidentally, connect distant and disparate places on the Disc. One of the minor characters in the novel, Mrs. Bradshaw, became a frequent passenger on the trains and began to write about her experiences. Pratchett has now used that character to create Terry Pratchett Presents Mrs. Bradshaw’s Handbook to Travelling upon the Ankh-Morpork & Sto Plains Hygienic Railway, a travel guide to the Disc, or at least those portions along the newly constructed railway.  The first chapter focuses on the experience of passengers on the Ankh-Morpork Railroad.

In Raising Steam, Pratchett focused mostly on the experiences of the men who run the railroad rather than the citizens who ride the wails. This volume allows Pratchett to add to his creation in the chatty personage of Mrs. Bradshaw, the disc’s first travel writer (and wouldn’t it be interesting to have her compare notes with Twoflower, the disc’s first tourist). Bradshaw explains who the railroad is set up and tricks to getting the most from a journey, based, of course, on Victorian era train travel, with the more fantastical elements of the Discworld used to round things out.

Subsequent chapters follow the routes the trains ply, from Ankh-Morpork to Scrote, Sto Lat, and Ohulan Cutash. Many of these locations have only been names in Pratchett’s novels (and some not even that much), while others have given the Disc such characters as Susan Sto Helit or Leonardo of Quirm. Pratchett is able to give a little life to these towns without having to work them into a full narrative. The quick brush strokes give an idea of size (Great Slack, population: 43) and some of the stranger cultural phenomenon on the Disc, such as the Cabbage Scramble and Rolling contest.

Almost written as a gazetteer, Mrs. Bradshaw’s Handbook is short and clever enough to be read straight through, but also done in a style that invites the reader to dip in and read a bit here and there, building up a full vision of Pratchett’s current version of the Discworld. Pratchett has long had little throw-away pieces of information buried in his Discworld related works, such as The Compleat Ankh Morpork, and he provides similar tidbits in this book, offering a look at rural and small town life on the Disc which has previously only been hinted at.

Because the railroad of Raising Steam and Mrs. Bradshaw’s Handbook are based on the rise of railroads in our own world, there is much that can be gleaned about their actual history from the guide, and generally the parts which are exaggerated or made up are easy to spot or very specific to the Discworld.

Just as The Dodger’s Guide to London stands on its own apart from Pratchett’s Dodger, so, too, does Mrs. Bradshaw’s Handbook stand apart from Raising Steam, although the book does benefit form having the background of the novel in mind when reading it.

Mrs. Bradshaw's Handbook is an enjoyable dessert for those who have read Raising Steam and a wonderful source of detailed and humorous information about Pratchett's world which is unlikely to find its way into the novels. For year's prior to allowing Stephen Briggs to map out Ankh-Morpork and the Discworld, Pratchett said it was unmappable and feared a map would stiffle his imagination. What he learned was that the more detail he put into the world, the more room there was for his imagination to run wild, which seems to be the case with books like Mrs. Bradshaw's Handbook

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