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 laughout-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.”
As those who have read Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels already know, witch-work can be very hard. Witches aren’t very magical in the sense that they turn people into frogs (What do you do with all the physical mass that used to be a person, but can’t fit into a frog? The solution isn’t very pretty.), but they are very special.
Tiffany, now sixteen (or close to it) was first introduced to readers in Wee Free Men, where she, at the age of eight, fought off a river monster with a frying pan and battled the Queen of the Faeries with the help of the Nac Mac Feegle, a tribe of little blue men who resemble the worst (and the best) that Scotland has to offer, and won. In A Hat Full Of Sky, Tiffany fought off a hiver, an invisible entity that absorbs your personality and lives your life for you, turning you into a rather nasty, hateful person until you die rather prematurely. In the third book, she nearly turns the discworld into an iceworld by dancing with the Wintersmith (everyone makes mistakes), but in I Shall Wear Midnight, the latest book from Terry Pratchett, there are no special monsters, no amazing magical creatures to overcome; just the evil that lives in mankind.
Pratchett has created a truly transitional book for his farewell to the Tiffany Aching series. Tiffany is grown up and her problems are those that the reader may also face one day. Tiffany, having returned to her home (The Chalk Hills) from training with the older witches takes on the responsibilities of being the local witch. Yes, she cares for the sick and dying, but she is also faced with new adult-centered issues.
Tiffany is challenged by how to help an abusive father who beats his daughter so badly that she loses her unborn child. She has to face the reality of her social status (how can a poor witch-girl ever hope to have a real relationship with the son of the local Baron). But worst of all, she has become known to an ancient evil, a spirit of pure hatred that is insane and utterly relentless. It finds a home with ignorance and fools. “Poison goes where poison’s welcome.” It wants to destroy Tiffany and, through her, all witches of the Discworld. The other witches offer to help, but this is Tiffany’s battle. Tiffany and the other witches understand that, as a witch, Tiffany’s problems are hers to solve. If she accepts help, she’s probably not really a witch at all. Even the ever present Nac Mac Feegle can’t help her now.
Pratchett is a master of weaving life lessons into a gripping story. The evil Tiffany faces is very much like the ignorance and hatred that is spread with lightening speed today across sections of the internet and from pundits on cable TV. Tiffany chooses to battle ignorance and hatred directly, which is truly the only way to do it. You can’t wait out ignorance to simply go away. Ignorance and hatred are immortal.
As Tiffany faces her final confrontation with evil, she worries that there is more that she should have done to prepare, to which a more senior witch advises her, ”There are times when everything that you can do has been done and there’s nothing for it now but to curl up and wait for the thunder to die down.”
Tiffany is a wonderful character that should appeal to both girls and boys, but mainly girls. Pratchett’s female characters are smarter, calmer, more sensible and ultimately braver in spirit than his male characters who typically face adversity with a burning desire for a quick visit to the pub.
This is NOT the book to read if you have not yet read a Tiffany Aching novel before. Pick up Wee Free Men and start from the beginning. A lot of the fun is to watch Tiffany grow into her chosen profession. Even those who are familiar with the witches of the Discworld (Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and the rest who make appearances in each of the Tiffany Aching books) will miss out if they don’t start from the beginning.
Finally, as a guest reviewer for Libri Dilectio, I should add that I recently read aloud a quote from Wee Free Men at the wedding reception of this blog’s main author (who also just happens, by strange coincidence, to be my daughter). It was some advice that Miss Tick, Tiffany’s first witch advisor, gave her on one of their first meetings:
“If you trust in yourself and believe in your dreams and follow your star, you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy.”
The Honeymoon’s over, kid. Get back to work and find us more great books!