Terry Pratchett – The Shepherd’s Crown

I did it. I read the very last Discworld novel. Mind you, I still have a lot of books in the series to catch up on, but my favorite sub-set – the Witches and Tiffany Aching – is over. As expected, it was as much the author saying goodbye to his books as it was another goodbye. My boyfriend actually preordered the super expensive special edition (with the golden slip case) for me, only to be told a few weeks ago that – oops – no more copies available, after all, despite a successful preorder. I would be grumpier about that if the fact that it’s the last Discworld book wasn’t so terribly sad. Now I’m just… even sadder, I guess.

shepherds crown

THE SHEPHERD’S CROWN
by Terry Pratchett

Published by: Harper, 2015
Ebook: 276 pages
Series: Discworld #41
Tiffany Aching #5
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence:  It was born in the darkness of the Circle Sea; at first just a soft floating thing, washed back and forth by tide after tide.

A shivering of worlds.
Deep in the Chalk, something is stirring. The owls and the foxes can sense it, and Tiffany Aching feels it in her boots. An old enemy is gathering strength.
This is a time of endings and beginnings, old friends and new, a blurring of edges and a shifting of power. Now Tiffany stands between the light and the dark, the good and the bad.
As the fairy horde prepares for invasion, Tiffany must summon all the witches to stand with her. To protect the land. Her land.
There will be a reckoning…

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I had a feeling long before this book was published that there would be a character death coming up. Most people knew what was coming, and it does happen in one of the first chapters. But if you’re really worried about spoilers, stop reading now. I can’t write about The Shepherd’s Crown without talking about… the thing, so anything after this paragraph is spoiler territory.

tiffany aching

Tiffany Aching has grown up a bit and is now a proper witch of the Chalk, taking care of all the business that witches concern themselves with. Whether it’s cutting an old man’s toenails or doing someone’s laundry, Tiffany doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty as long as she can help others. It’s what witches do, after all. She already has both hands full of work when news reaches her of something that we all expected to happen sooner or later. Granny Weatherwax has died. Despite knowing it was coming, the chapters building up to Granny’s death and the chapters just after she has gone were some of the most touching Pratchett has ever written. Granny, in her eternal Granny-ness, makes all the preparations, weaves her own coffin, cleans her hut, and asks her bees to be as kind to her successor as they were to her. I cried like a baby.

Nanny Ogg knows that Granny didn’t want a big fuss made about her funeral but Granny was such a respected witch that people from all over the Disc come to pay their last respect. Even Ridcully shows up, mournful and nostalgic about a love story that could have been. Death himself, who is normally so serene about his job and the people he helps to cross over, is sad about this one. But the Disc doesn’t stand still and Granny’s successor is to be Tiffany Aching – to noone’s surprise except Mrs. Earwig, who thinks she is much better suited to the job. But when even the cat You decides that Tiffany is the new leader the witches don’t have, it is settled.

Tiffany now has to deal with two steadings, two sets of people in need, and she is straining under the stress of travelling back and forth between the Chalk and Lancre. The big bad of this last Tiffany story is one who has tried to take over the world before – the Fairy Queen. This felt as re-hashed as it is, complete with another visit to the Fairy King, Magrat donning her trusty old armor, and the witches all working together to defeat a common foe. In Geoffrey Swivel, a man who wants to be a witch, we also have a beautiful conclusion to the Witches subseries. Remember in the very first book about the Discworld witches, Eskarina wished to be a magician, not a witch.

Plot-wise, this wasn’t a strong book. Even the language is noticably weaker, with many repetitions (“There will be a reckoning”) and none of the well-known little lines of wisdom that stick in your head long after you’re finished reading. But it is very much a book full of goodbyes. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that many, many characters from earlier books show up again or are at least mentioned. We see Miss Tick, Agnes/Perdita, Magrat and Verence, Eskarina, Granny Aching is mentioned along with Thunder and Lightning, even Horace the cheese gets his moment. To me – and this is pure speculation – it read very much like Terry Pratchett’s goodbye to his characters and if that turned out a little repetitive, remembering all their adventures, I can’t really fault the author for that.

It was impossible for me to read this book out of context. Were Sir Terry still with us, were this another among many Discworld books, I’d say it was a weaker Tiffany book, althugh still a pretty good Discworld novel. But it is not just one among many, it is the last one, and I felt like crying all the time while I read it. The Shepherd’s Crown may not stand too well on its own, but as a look back on all that has come before, it is just right the way it is.

MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Very good

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Second opinions:

Terry Pratchett – Carpe Jugulum

Apparently, I now suffer severe mood swings when I don’t read enough Terry Pratchett. So it was about time I picked up the last unread novel about the Lancre witches and spent a few evenings giggling merrily away with a Pratchett book. Now that the fifth Tiffany Aching book has been anounced (SO MUCH HAPPINESS!) I don’t even have to feel bad about not having any more witches books to read.

carpe jugulumCARPE JUGULUM
by Terry Pratchett

Published by:  Corgi, 1998
Paperback: 416 pages
Series: Discworld #23
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: Through the shredded black clouds a fire moved like a dying star, falling back to earth – the earth, that is, of the Discworld – but unlike any star had ever done before, it sometimes managed to steer its fall, sometimes rising, sometimes twisting, but inevitably heading down.

Mightily Oats has not picked a good time to be priest. He thought he was there for a simple little religious ceremony. Now he’s caught up in a war between vampires and witches, and he’s not sure there is a right side. There’s the witches — Agnes, Magrat, Nanny Ogg, and the formidable Granny Weatherwax… And the vampires: the stakes are high but they’re intelligent — not easily got rid of with a garlic enema or going to the window and saying “I don’t know about you, but isn’t it a bit stuffy in here?” They’ve got style and fancy waistcoats. They’re out of the casket and want a bite of the future.

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There’s something to be said for vampires that don’t glitter. Who would have ever suspected that this will be among the criteria by which I judge my vampire fiction? But unsurprising, Terry Pratchett’s vampires don’t only arrive in Lancre with a distinct lack of glitter, they also don’t mind garlic, holy water, and daylight. It’s quite a challenge for the four witches currently residing in the Ramtops, especially with Granny disappeared…

I love the Lancre witches. On many occasions have I said that I hope to become a Granny Weatherwax or a Nanny Ogg when I’m old (I realise they are vastly different people and I suspect I am more of a Nanny but I’ll take what I can get). With Granny gone for a large part of the book, Sir Terry had his hooks firmly set into me. After all, a Lancre without a Weatherwax is just not right. In her stead, the Quite Reverend Mightily Oats has arrived and brings with him a lot of discussion about religion, belief, and all things holy. With everything Terry Pratchett writes, there are wonderful bits of wisdom in everything Granny says. The nature of good and evil is no exception.

There’s no grays, only white that’s gone grubby. I’m surprised you don’t know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.

This book also marks the first appearance of the Nac Mac Feegle, that race of pictsies so prominent in the Tiffany Aching books. King Verence, after having his mind muddled up by vampires, pays a visit to the local kelda and we get our first taste of the crazy, brawling and drinking Feegles. In addition to that, Count Magpyr has brought his very modern vampire family to settle down in Lancre. Magrat is dealing with her newborn, Agnes still struggles with her split personality, and Hodgesaaargh is hunting a phoenix…

If you think that’s a bit much then I agree. Even with prior Discworld knowledge, there were too many characters and too many side-plots going on in Carpe Jugulum. There’s a reason why the Lancre witches always try to remain a trio. Hopping back and forth between the vampires’ point of view, one of the witches, Mightily Oats, and the vampires’ servant Igor, it all got a bit chaotic. Following the plot is no problem when you know who everybody is, but every time I settled into one plot string comfortably, I was ripped out for a quick visit to another character. These chapter-like breaks (as you know, Discworld novels don’t have chapters) came too often and too quickly.

carpe jugulum french

Normally, the witches books leave me an emotional wreck. The lack of structure and frequent POV hopping prevented this from happening here. Sure, Granny Weatherwax standing on the edge and being gone for most of the beginning of the book was tough. She is such an essential part of Lancre – and Discworld, really – that her absence was all the more painful.

One thing you will always get, however, is humor. Pratchett’s vampires are dangerous and scary, but they also have their quirks. Agnes and Perdita’s interactions, as well as Nanny Ogg just being Nanny Ogg make for more than enough scenes to make you laugh. The stuff that old lady carries around in her stockings leg is astounding.

Why are vampires always so stupid? As if wearing evening dress all day wasn’t a dead givaway, why do they choose to live in old castles which offer so much in the way of ways to defeat a vampire, like easily torn curtains and wall decorations that can readily be twisted into religious symbol? Do they really think that spelling their name backward fools anyone?

I wish there had been more focus in this book, a few characters could even have been cut, and it would have been an excellent read. The way it is, it’s “only” a very good book. Not my favorite Discworld book and probably my least favorite witches novel. Which, all things considered, is not saying very much because the worst book Terry Pratchett can produce is still better than the best many other authors do.

RATING: 7/10  – Very good

divider1The Witches of Lancre:

  1. carpe jugulum frenchEqual Rites
  2. Wyrd Sisters
  3. Witches Abroad
  4. Lords and Ladies
  5. Maskerade
  6. Carpe Jugulum
  7. Tiffany Aching
    1. The Wee Free Men
    2. A Hat Full of Sky
    3. Wintersmith
    4. I Shall Wear Midnight

Terry Pratchett – Lords and Ladies

By now, I can’t even imagine a world without Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax. There is also a new Terry Pratchett non-fiction collection coming out in October which I’m thinking of pre-ordering. It’s funny how this year started with me being all in love with Catherynne M. Valente and now I can’t get away from Discworld. This is the joy of being a non-professional blogger. Because it means I can read as many Discworld books in a row as I want. And if I do ever get bored, nobody can force me to continue. And these books aren’t going anywhere.

lords and ladies1LORDS AND LADIES
by Terry Pratchett

Published by: Corgi, 2013 (1992)
ISBN: 0552167525
Paperback: 400 pages
Series: Discworld #14
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: Now read on…
When does it start?

The fairies are back – but this time they don’t just want your teeth.
It’s Midsummer Night – no time for dreaming. Because sometimes, when there’s more than one reality at play, too much dreaming can make the walls between them come tumbling down. Unfortunately there’s usually a damned good reason for there being walls between them in the first place – to keep things out. Things who want to make mischief and play havoc with the natural order.
Granny Weatherwax and her tiny coven are up against real elves. And even in a world of dwarfs, wizards, trolls, Morris dancers and the odd orang-utan, this is going to cause real trouble. With lots of hey-nonny-nonny and blood all over the place.

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Magrat is getting married. Readers may have suspected it since Wyrd Sisters but personally, I didn’t believe that either she or Verence II would work up the courage to ask one another. Which is why matters are conveniently already arranged when Magrat returns home with Granny and Nanny. Now she has to learn proper queening, which is enough work as it is, but in addition, there are strange things going on at the standing stones in the woods. And around midsummer night, the walls between worlds are especially thin. Things might break through…

This was a particularly fun Discworld novel. I never liked Magrat as much as I did in Lords and Ladies and even though I know that she will be replaced by Agnes Nitt (she of the angelic voice, large body, and personality disorder), I believe that I will end up missing Magrat Garlick. That quiet, too-nice-for-her-own-good girl kicked some serious fairy butt!

I was also pleased to discover a different side to Granny Weatherwax. She always seems so aloof, so unconcerned about her private life and especially all things romantic (and I like her that way) but the peculiar kind of havoc wrought by the fairies shows us that, at the very least, Granny could have led a very different life. But whatever may or may not have been, we still get to enjoy Granny’s wonderful wit and incredible practicality.

‘Some­one got killed up here.’ [said Granny]
‘Oh, no,’ moaned Nanny Ogg.
‘A tall man. He had one leg longer’n the other. And a beard. He was prob­a­bly a hunter.’
‘How’d you know all that?’
‘I just trod on ’im.’

You may not guess immediately from the title – I didn’t – but the Lords and Ladies it refers to are fairies. Now I’ve always had a soft spot for fairies, but for some reason, the Disney version never did it for me. I like the mysterious, dark ones that aren’t all bad but most certainly aren’t all good either (the real Tinkerbell is still one of my favorites). Terry Pratchett ditched the wish-fulfilling, glittering good fairies and instead opted for a seductive, dangerous, alluring, and most importantly, stylish kind of fairie folk. The way they are set up makes them more creepy than funny but as soon as people decide to fight back, there are a few absolutely hilarious scenes involving fairies, Magrat, and Greebo. I don’t think I need to say any more.

lords and ladies cover image

Comparing the Witches books to each other (as I inadvertently do), I believe this was also one of the better crafted ones. The plot lines start out seemingly unconnected but run together towards a fantastic ending. Ridcully and Ponder Stibbons make an appearance, and the Librarian of Unseen University saves the day more than once. I’m still not too fond of the wizards, but I’ll take the certainly-not-a-monkey and his exclamations of “Ook.” any time to spice up the plot. The fact that the storylines do converge helps flesh out Discworld as a whole and makes the place feel more real. Without actually going to Ankh-Morpork, with the wizards visiting Lancre, we are reminded that even in the Witches’ storyline, Discworld is a large place where lots of things happen at the same time. Just not necessarily all in the same place.

Given that I still have no idea how big exaclty Discworld is supposed to be, it also came as a bit of a surprise to find out that some characters knew each other from “way back when”. In one clever stroke, Terry Pratchett breathes life into his world, its mythology, and its characters. All of this is achieved without long expositions or boring info-dumps. After all, the characters know who they are and how their world works. We have to figure it out from the context – something I immensely enjoy and that far too few authors trust their readers to manage.  Thanks again, Sir Terry, for believing that your readers have the ability to think for themselves.

As you see, I have very little to complain about. The only thing that makes me sad at this point is that I only have one more Witches novel to look forward to (I hear there will be vampires). Carpe Jugulum will have to wait a litte, though, because a few days ago I started listening to the audiobook of Making Money. I had almost forgotten how much I like ex-swinder and now Postmaster General Moist von Lipwig.

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The Witches novels (Discworld):

  1. Equal Rites
  2. Wyrd Sisters
  3. Witches Abroad
  4. Lords and Ladies
  5. Maskerade
  6. Carpe Jugulum
  7. Tiffany Aching (sub-series)
    1. The Wee Free Men
    2. A Hat Full of Sky
    3. Wintersmith
    4. I Shall Wear Midnight

Terry Pratchett – Witches Abroad

It appears that, despite my reading resolutions, half a dozen ongoing challenges, and recommendations from friends and fellow bloggers, I am making my way through the Discworld series without so much as a pit stop. So it will come as no surprise that, after jumping around in the series rather wildly, I picked up the next (chronological) Witches novel.
When Terry Pratchett says “Witches are abroad”, they literally go abroad. With Granny Weatherwax’s practicality and Nanny Ogg’s immesurable knowledge of how to say things in “foreign”, what could possibly go wrong…?

witches abroad1WITCHES ABROAD
by Terry Pratchett

Published by: Corgi, 2013 (1991)
ISBN: 0552167509
Paperback: 368 pages
Series: Discworld #12
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: This is the Discworld, which travels through space on the back of four elephants which themselves stand on the shell of Great A’Tuin, the sky turtle.

It seemed an easy job . . . After all, how difficult could it be to make sure that a servant girl doesn’t marry a prince?
But for the witches Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick, travelling to the distant city of Genua, things are never that simple. Servant girls have to marry the prince. That’s what life is all about. You can’t fight a Happy Ending. At least — up until now.

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It’s fairy tale time. If you think that Witches are the only female magic-users on the Discworld, you forget a very important branch – fairy godmothers. Young Magrat inherits one late fairy godmother’s wand and the job that comes with it. There is a princess-turned-scullery-maid in Genua who must be kept from marrying the prince. Of course, this is Terry Pratchett, so expect every single fairy tale to be turned on its head, every cliché subverted, and every witch in Granny Weatherwax’s coven to be smart enough to see the bigger picture and realise that a Happy Ending isn’t necessarily what’s in the story book.

This is part travelogue, part mystery, and part crazy fairy tale. When the witches set off on their broomsticks and fly to Genua, there is much fun to be had. Little things like Nanny Ogg’s travel provisions, the fact that she brings Greebo, the cat, along, and Granny’s broomstick trouble make the journey all the more delightful. I was particularly enchanted and amused by Nanny’s ability to speak “foreign” and (more or less) translate words into English. On one of their stops, Granny Weatherwax once more shows her skill in playing cards, this time the famous Cripple Mr. Onion. Also, Nanny Ogg accidentally invents postcards and the little notes she sends home to her son Jason are hilarious. Misspelled words included.

Nanny Ogg sent a num­ber of cards home to her fam­ily, not a sin­gle one of which got back be­fore she did. This is tra­di­tional, and hap­pens every­where in the uni­verse.

witches abroad full cover

Terry Pratchett knows his fairy tales. While this Discworld book focuses mainly on Cinderella, influences of other well-known and not so well-known stories slip into the witches’ adventure. Take Mrs Gogol’s house, for example. You can see it in the (very green!) full cover illustration above. Anyone who’s ever heard of Baba Yaga will recognise that house on chicken’s legs immediately.

But even if you’re not a friend of fairy tales, classic or obscure, there are many more things to amuse and delight. If you’ve ever wondered, for example, if Discoworld had its own Casanova, search no longer. That is all I will say on the subject because he is best enjoyed without bias. I also loved Discworld’s take on racism. There is none. Because the inhabitants are too busy with speciism, nobody cares what color your skin is, just so long as you’re not a goblin. Of course, this is meant to be taken with a grain of salt, but I believe it shows Pratchett’s amazing gift when hiding real-world issues in Discworld without wielding the morality hammer. Sometimes when I read his books I feel that he just gets it.

Another pleasant surprise was that we find out a bit about Granny Weatherwax’s family and her upbringing. She is still a mysterious (and absolutely wonderful) character, but I believe she became much more human in this novel. Nobody needs worry, though. She is still a fond user of “headology” and her success rate remains incredible.

Some­times Ma­grat re­ally won­dered about the oth­ers’ com­mit­ment to witch­craft. Half the time they didn’t seem to bother.
Take med­i­cine, for ex­am­ple … Granny just gave peo­ple a bot­tle of coloured water and told them they felt a lot bet­ter.
And what was so an­noy­ing was that they often did.
Where was the witch­craft in that?

Having read Maskerade first, I had assumed certain things as facts without asking myself where they came from. Here was the genesis of one character’s transformation and it goes to show the author’s talent. I didn’t feel like anything was spoiled. Sure, I knew beforehand what would happen to the character but going back in time felt more like a privilege and a pleasure rather than catching up on a spoiled ending. Well done, Sir Terry!

I am getting to the point where I try (in my head) to rank the Discworld novels I have read so far. Tiffany Aching is still way ahead of anyone else, but Witches Abroad may just be my favorite Witches book yet. Let’s see if Lords and Ladies can kick it off its throne. Did I mention I’m already halfway through that one? What I’m saying is: Read the Discworld books.

RATING: 8 –  Excellent

divider1The Witches novels (Discworld):

  1. Equal Ritesgranny and nanny
  2. Wyrd Sisters
  3. Witches Abroad
  4. Lords and Ladies
  5. Maskerade
  6. Carpe Jugulum
  7. Tiffany Aching (sub-series)
    1. The Wee Free Men
    2. A Hat Full of Sky
    3. Wintersmith
    4. I Shall Wear Midnight

Terry Pratchett – Wyrd Sisters

Yes, yes. It’s me and those witches again. The more Discworld books I read, the more I want to be like Granny Weatherwax and/or Nanny Ogg when I’m old. They are the coolest old ladies I’ve ever read about and I can’t get enough of them. Even if this wasn’t my favorite Discworld novel, I still enjoyed myself enormously.

wyrd sisters1WYRD SISTERS
by Terry Pratchet

Published by: Corgi, 2012 (1988)
ISBN: 0552166642
Paperback: 368 pages
Series: Discworld #6
My rating: 6,5/10

First sentence: The wind howled.

Things like crowns had a troublesome effect on clever folks; it was best to leave all the reigning to the kind of people whose eyebrows met in the middle.

Three witches gathered on a lonely heath. A king cruelly murdered, his throne usurped by his ambitious cousin. A child heir and the crown of the kingdom, both missing.
Witches don’t have these kind of dynastic problems themselves – in fact, they don’t have leaders. Granny Weatherwax was the most highly-regarded of the leaders they didn’t have. But even she found that meddling in royal politics was a lot more complicated than certain playwrights would have you believe, particularly when the blood on your hands just won’t wash off and you’re facing a future with knives in it…

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The German title for this early Discworld novel is MacBest and it should give you a pretty good idea of the theme Terry Pratchett tackles in this one. There are three witches and thespians, destiny and murdered kings, bubbling cauldrons and a clever fool – and of course Greebo, the cat.

When Granny, Nanny, and Magrat’s meeting is interrupted, they find themselves with an infant and a crown on their hands. Since witches don’t meddle in politics, they find a safe place for both child and crown – a travelling troupe of actors whose fake crowns are much more grand than the real one now hidden among their props. This sets the stage for the second Witches novel on Discworld.

“Things that try to look like things often do look more like things than things.”

I am repeating myself but no story involving Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax will ever be truly bad. The strange thing is that I got to know them in reverse. I remember Granny most clearly as a side character in the (brilliant!) Tiffany Aching books. Going back to the beginning, I was curious to see whether she has always been the way she is or whether the author tweaked her personality along the way. I was incredibly happy to find good old, cranky Granny Weatherwax, just as I remembered her (from the future… sort of). The same goes for Nanny Ogg, who just makes me happy. I’m thinking of printing a poster of Nanny Ogg and Greebo to hang on my wall.

wyrd sisters full cover

While I liked most of the side characters, a lot of them were left rather shallow or were thrown in for a good laugh of two. Unlike the later Discworld novels, this one was more fun and less depth. There is nothing wrong with that. Not every novel needs to have a deep core that will leave you thinking for months later. Honestly, watching Granny Weatherwax in a dungeon, inquiring about the various torture devices, was more fun than I ever would have thought.

Ma­grat tried. Every morn­ing her hair was long, thick and blond, but by the evening it had al­ways re­turned to its nor­mal wor­ried frizz. To ame­lio­rate the ef­fect she had tried to plait vi­o­lets and cowslips in it. The re­sult was not all she had hoped. It gave the im­pres­sion that a win­dow box had fallen on her head.

Enough praise for Granny and Nanny. This was my first novel involving Magrat and I’m not a fan. I enjoyed the humor at her cost (yes, I’m mean that way) and she was a nice anchor of normality when Granny and Nanny had their banter going, but I didn’t really connect with her the way I did with other characters. My guess is that it’s just a matter of taste because she was a well-written, rounded character, if somewhat too fond of “occult jewellery”.

The only fault I can find with this novel is that the plot is a bit of a mess at times, and that it simply isn’t as good as what Pratchett writes now. And that’s rather a reason to be happy. If an author publishes his best work young and never manages to surpass it, it will be a sad day for us readers. Terry Pratchett’s development can be traced through his Discworld novels. So while I didn’t fall head over heels in love with Wyrd Sisters, it was a fun light read that shows Pratchett’s cleverness, even if it doesn’t do it as well as his newer books.

RATING: 6,5/10  –  Quite good.

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Terry Pratchett – I Shall Wear Midnight

This is it. Tiffany Aching’s story is over, at least for now. Terry Pratchett said in an interview that, were he ever to continue telling Tiffany Aching’s story, the next book would have to be an adult novel because Tiffany would be grown up. Now that’s a thought I like. That girl kicked ass when she was nine and picked up a frying pan, just imagine what she can do as a fully-grown witch…

i shall wear midnight2I SHALL WEAR MIDNIGHT
by Terry Pratchett

Published in: Corgi Childrens, 2010
ISBN: 9780552555593
Paperback: 424 pages
Series: Tiffany Aching #4
Discworld #38

My rating: 9/10

First sentence: Why was it, Tiffany Aching wondered, that people liked noise so much?

It starts with whispers.
Then someone picks up a stone.
Finally, the fires begin.
When people turn on witches, the innocents suffer. . . .
Tiffany Aching has spent years studying with senior witches, and now she is on her own. As the witch of the Chalk, she performs the bits of witchcraft that aren’t sparkly, aren’t fun, don’t involve any kind of wand, and that people seldom ever hear about: She does the unglamorous work of caring for the needy.
But someone or something is igniting fear, inculcating dark thoughts and angry murmurs against witches. Aided by her tiny blue allies, the Wee Free Men, Tiffany must find the source of this unrest and defeat the evil at its root before it takes her life. Because if Tiffany falls, the whole Chalk falls with her.
Chilling drama combines with laugh-out-loud humor and searing insight as beloved and bestselling author Terry Pratchett tells the high-stakes story of a young witch who stands in the gap between good and evil.

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The Discworld sub-series about the young apprentice witch Tiffany Aching has been consistently good, but was never more touching than in this final volume. As Tiffany grows older, so do the themes the author explores. Most striking, this book takes a very dark turn and recounts some of the more terrible things human beings are capable of doing. Tiffany, however, takes these things with her usual calm and the knowledge that she is doing the best she can, as any good witch would. While the first books can be put into children’s hands without second thoughts, there was one scene in particular in I Shall Wear Midnight that I found shocking, even as a grown-up. When a young girl, who is pregnant, is beaten by her father so violently that she loses the child, Tiffany is the one who will try to make things right. Or as right as they can be in such a situation. Clearly, being a witch of almost-sixteen means trodding darker territory than ever before.

In the way he does so well, Terry Pratchett manages to lift his readers’ moods by being absolutely hilarious. While I loved Tiffany’s visit to the actual Boffo, there were numerous moments that elicited chuckles, laughter, and sometimes hysterical giggling on my part. I feel like I’m repeating myself because, honestly, Pratchett does what he’s been doing for the last few books, and does it as well – if not better. While Discworld is a funny place, it is usually the little moments of wisdom, of bravery and kindness, that get to me and make these books so memorable.

And so, because nobody in the castle had ever been very enthusiastic about the dungeon, everybody had forgotten that it had a chimney. And that is why Tiffany looked up and saw, high above her, that little patch of blue which a prisoner calls the sky, but which she, as soon as it was dark enough, intended to call the exit.

I have talked a lot about Tiffany as a character and a rolemodel and someone I would want to be friends with if she were real (or I lived in Discworld). But, wonderful as she is, I must metion the side characters. Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg only have a short cameo in this book. In their stead, we get to see a lot more or Roland and the lady Letitia (whose name is “halfway between a salad and a sneeze”) and her horrible snob of a mother. Just as I got comfortable hating certain characters and joining Tiffany in thinking nasty thoughts about them, Terry Pratchett reminded me that, despite their faults, these are still people with their own worries and dreams. Making every single character so very human that I can believe they are real (if only in my mind) is a feat that more authors should try to accomplish. Even characters we only see for one little scene get enough depth to make them three-dimensional.

midnight wearerAs I said above, the plot is a lot more sinister than in the previous books. Tiffany is neither hunted by a hiver, nor wooed by the Wintersmith. Instead, she has a much creepier, and more dangerous, creature to deal with. A creature that brings out the worst in people and a perfect villain, if you ask me. I enjoyed seeing Tiffany do her regular witchy work, although it does require watching people die at times, or helping a young girl recover from a beating, but her trip to Ankh Morpork definitely added another layer of fun to it. Not only does she meet certain officers of the Watch and visit Boffo’s, but another familiar character from the early Discoworld books makes an appearance.

The last thing I want to mention is the romance. Or lack thereof. Or the turning-on-the-head of the non-existing romance. You know… Sir Terry takes tropes from fairytales and fantasy literature alike and shows Tiffany (and us readers) that tropes aren’t actually rules.

And Tiffany… went back in time, just for a second. But in that second she was a little girl again, reading the well-thumbed book of fairy stories that all her sisters had read before her. But she had seen what they had not seen; she had seen through it. It lied. no, well, not exactly lied, but told you truths that you did not want to know: that only blonde and blue-eyed girls could get the prince and wear the glittering crown. It was built into the world. Even worse, it was built into your hair colouring. Redheads and brunettes sometimes got more than a walk-on part in the land of story, but if all you had was a rather mousy shade of brown hair you were marked down to be a servant girl.

Terry Pratchett doesn’t just show us that this “rule” goes both ways (what if a blonde girl wants to be something other than a glittering princess?) but also that its bullshit. Young girls with mousy brown hair, take heart. The other trope that was clearly subverted is the love story, even the love triangle. Now Tiffany is not immune to jealousy but she is also a clever and resourceful girl who trusts her Second and Third thoughts when they tell her the difference between love and friendship.

I am truly sad that this wonderful journey is over and can only hope that Terry Pratchett writes another book about the coolest witch I’ve ever read about.

THE GOOD: Brilliant characters, hilarious moments, a strong heroine dealing with tough situations.
THE BAD:
It’s the last one in the seires!
THE VERDICT:
Still as highly recommended as three books ago. Tiffany has stolen my heart and I already long to go back to her universe, the Nac Mac Feegles and the witches. Although I like none of them half as much as I like Tiffany. These are the kinds of books I wish I could have read when I was little.

RATING: 9/10  – Close to perfection

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The Tiffany Aching Series:

  1. The Wee Free Mentiffany aching series
  2. A Hat Full of Sky
  3. Wintersmith
  4. I Shall Wear Midnight

Terry Pratchett – Wee Free Men

It is official now. Discworld and I have become friends after all. I doubt I’ll ever become a big fan of the earlier Discworld books but ever since I started reading them at random, by pure whim, I have had nothing but fun in Terry Pratchett’s hilarious flat world.

wee free men¹THE WEE FREE MEN
by Terry Pratchett

Published by: Harper Collins, 2009 (2003)
ISBN: 0061975265
ebook: 375 pages
Series: Discworld #30
Tiffany Aching #1

My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: Some things start before other things.

Up on the Wold, there’s a monster in the river and a headless horseman in the drive. And now Granny Aching has gone, there’s only young Tiffany Aching left to guard the boundaries. To stop . . . things getting through.

It’s her land. Her duty.

But it’s amazing how useful a horde of unruly pictsies can be – as long as they are pointed in the right direction and can stop fighting each other first . . .divider

Tiffany Aching is a practical, nine-year-old girl who has decided she would like to become a witch. Living on the Chalk, however, means herding sheep, making cheese and butter and – the one really bad thing – taking care of your useless and constantly sticky baby brother Wentworth. When Tiffany meets a scary creature in the stream and soon stands face to lack-of-face with a headless rider, she knows that things are afoot. Thankfully, the Nac Mac Feegle, little blue men in kilts and with a drinking problem, are there to help her wherever they can.

It is with utter charm and magic that Terry Pratchett allows us to enter Discworld once more. While Ankh-Morpork may be the center of the craziness, the Chalk made for a refreshing, rural setting and I couldn’t help but love Tiffany. A young girl who knows how to spell difficult words, how to cure ailments in sheep, and how to smack a monster over the head with a frying pan – she’s a heroine to my liking.

I found this book to be more obviously centered in the YA genre than The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents which is not to say that it is dumbed down in any way. I appreciate how Pratchett manages to keep the plot straight-forward (if not exaclty simple) and still respect his younger readers. He does not subscribe to the school of “that’s too hard for kids to understand”.

wee free men 2

The main story arc is Tiffany’s little brother getting lost and her trying to get him back. However, there is so much more to discover. This book is about dreams and magic and believing in yourself. Tiffany does not rely on other people to help her, and she is not a perfect little person. There are moments of self-doubt, a lot of self-reflections (her Second and Third Thoughts take care of that) and realisations about life. All of that is wrapped in a fun adventure story with cursing, sort-of-Scottish blue men who are six inches tall and whose swords glow blue when there are lawyers nearby.

You know that you will laugh when you pick up a Discworld novel and this one is no exception. It was not laugh-out-loud funny on every page, some jokes are much subtler than others. I believe that any child will adore the Nac Mac Feegles for the hilarious creatures that they are. But there is enough for adults to get out of this to merit a read. References to fairy tales or pop culture may not be understood by every child but they will add a chuckle or two for (young) adults.

I must say, Maurice blew me away more but it is really not fair to compare the two. Tiffany Aching is an engaging, strong heroine and I look forward to her next adventure. Her character arc alone made this worthwile and I highly recommend it to fans of Discworld or even someone completely new to Pratchett’s world. If you don’t know where to start, the YA books are good choices. And trust me, you will not want to stop there.

THE GOOD: A fantastic protagonist, a lot of fun, crazy adventures and terrifying creatures. Not a single boring moment.
THE BAD: A bit confusing at times, especially when we enter dreams-within-dreams. Also, the toad should have been allowed to talk more.
THE VERDICT: A highly recommended (starter) novel of Discworld that introduces a character the likes of whom YA literature needs more.

RATING: 7,5/10 – Very, very good (leaning towards an 8)

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The Tiffany Aching Series: