There’s no such thing as a bad Discworld book, but this one wasn’t my favorite. I know Pratchett probably gets a bit bored with the same characters over and over, and I appreciate that he wants to richly people this world, but I just don’t quite care as much about the freshman class of characters. Moist Von Lipwig is the main character of this one, and he’s fine, but Commander Vimes does not get near enough screentime, and Rincewind gets two footnotes and that’s it! I get that Ankh-Morpork is a big place, and I suppose other people in it are allowed to have adventures, but I’m greedy and just want more about my favorites.
But anyway, the book’s still good. It’s about the Discworld’s discovery of trains, and the first steam locomotive, and how that changes the landscape of the world. Easier travel, faster shipping of goods, etc. vs. scary scary CHANGE. Moist and Lord Vetinari do the delicate dance of trying to usher in progress while keeping everybody happy, with the predictable obstacles thrown in.
Meanwhile, the more traditional dwarves are fed up with the next generation of dwarves, who want to ride trains and work in places other than mines and not do things The Way They’ve Always Been Done. There’s sabotage and skullduggery and a coup, and Moist and the trains get pulled into the fracas.
As always with Pratchett, you can read things on the surface level (trains and a dwarven civil war), or have fun with all his levels (progress, fear of the future and change, racism). There are a lot of “people are people” lessons going on in this one, with dwarves and trolls and goblins standing in for groups of folk who mindlessly hate other groups of folk. There’s a great line where one of the more sensible dwarfs is reminding another that the dwarf god Tak “teaches us to be tolerant of all sapient shapes.”
So, interesting, fun, good, but needs more Vimes/witches/Death.