The Short Version: Tiffany Aching is the witch for an area of country on the Disc called The Chalk. She trained with Granny Weatherwax and some others and has done some pretty awesome things. She’s friends with small blue men who speak like Scots called the Nac Mac Feegle. At 16, she’s dealing with romance (sort of) and the appearance of an entity called “The Cunning Man” – a sort-of undead witch hunter who poisons people’s minds against witches. It’s all on the Discworld, too, so this is all terribly funny even when it gets serious.
Review: I don’t know what I’m going to do when Death knocks at Terry Pratchett’s door and says, “IT IS TIME.” Maybe he can get an extension, seeing as Death is only a character created by Mr. Pratchett… right?
I’m not meaning to alarm anyone – so far as I know, Mr. Pratchett is in fine physical health. However, he is aging and he does (quite sadly) suffer from Alzheimer’s. So I find myself treasuring each Discworld adventure as though it could be my last. Even a so-called “children’s” book, like this one, seems more magical than expected – though, of course, children’s is in quotes there for a reason. Like many of his books, I Shall Wear Midnight plays on multiple levels, delighting children and adults both. This fourth Tiffany Aching book, however, cannot truly be called a children’s book like the first three. In this book, she’s 16 and there’s an awful lot of discussion of… well… things that one discusses at the age of 16 in a society where 16 means you’re probably close to (if not already) married and you’ve probably seen more than most modern 16 year olds, especially if you’re the local witch.
I’ll admit, I was surprised by how serious the beginning of this book was. I can’t think of another time that I’ve seen Pratchett handle a very delicate and very emotionally raw issue like a father beating his daughter to the point of miscarriage. It was handled tactfully and (wisely) without much humor – reminding readers that Pratchett is excellent not only at the witty and the droll, but at the human as well. The Discworld is so great at capturing humanity, sometimes.
This book has a lot to do with hate. With the way that a single person can plant an idea that stirs up a crowd. With intolerance, bigotry, even a bit of xenophobia. And there’s a fair amount of talk about weddings and wedding nights and boys&girls and all that stuff. So, as I said, definitely not a true children’s book, this one. As a result, it ends up being the best of the Tiffany Aching books thus far. The usual suspects put in appearances – Granny Weatherwax makes a welcome appearance, Nanny Ogg predictably in tow; various individuals from The Watch including Carrot and Angua; there’s even a throwback to Equal Rites (I won’t ruin it as it’s one of the most enjoyable intertextual diversions I’ve seen in a series full of them). But the star of this book is, of course, Tiffany. Like Moist von Lipwig, she’s one of Pratchett’s late-series mini-series creations and she shows that the Disc is still full of remarkable individuals. Sure, I miss Granny having books to herself… and there hasn’t been a good Death-centric novel in ages. Vimes is the only one who truly has a continuous streak from the early days to now – and, it could be argued, the most recent Vimes books (The Fifth Elephant, Thud!, Night Watch…) have been some of the best Vimes/Watch entries!
So to see Pratchett devote so much time to developing a new character… well, it concerned me at first – but patience has been rewarded. The Cunning Man is a terrifying foe and watching Tiffany overcome him was a delight. The Nac Mac Feegle are, as always, rambunctious and terribly entertaining – and this book featured a bit of development there, too. Indeed, I felt the seeds of the next Aching book being sewn in the scenes with the kelda and Amber. Ach, crivens, I doon winnae get into ett noo, though.
Rating: 5 out of 5. Easily the strongest Tiffany Aching book and a delightful diversion to the Chalk – an area of the Disc that seems boring, comparatively… but sometimes a quieter tale on the Disc is exactly what’s needed. This may’ve been the quietest – certainly the quietest in a long time – and it was exactly what I needed, although I didn’t know it when I got started. I look forward to the next Tiffany story (though it is undoubtedly years down the road) – and to the impending Vimes story, set to be published this fall. And the Moist story about taxes coming after that. Oh yes, indeed.