Monday, October 25, 2010

I Shall Wear Midnight, by Terry Pratchett

I know I said I was going to focus on less-well-known authors, but this is one of those cases where I have to squee a bit about someone who is rightfully famous. And perhaps Terry Pratchett's YA books are less well-known than his adult ones, so maybe this counts.

In any case, GO READ THE WEE FREE MEN. And then come back and we can talk.

So. Now that you've read the first Tiffany Aching book, you'll want to go on to A Hat Full of Sky and then Wintersmith. Now. Do you see what I mean?

I love Tiffany Aching. From our first introduction to her, where she sees a monster in the creek so she goes and gets a frying pan, sets her younger brother out as bait, and whacks the monster on the head with a clang ("It was a good clang, with the oiyoiyoioioioioioinnnnngggggggg that is the mark of a clang well done"), you know this is a character whose head you want to be in. She's eleven years old, and she decides she wants to be a witch when she finds out about an old woman who was turned out of her house and died in the snow because people suspected her of being a witch.

"Tell me why you still want to be a witch, bearing in mind what happened to Mrs Snapperly?"
"So that sort of thing doesn't happen again."
She even buried the old witch's cat, thought Miss Tick. What kind of child is this?
Tiffany thinks, and she cares, and she pays attention to detail. She loves words like susurrus. And now that I'm in chapter one looking for more quotations, I think I'll just reread the whole book . . .

I love Pratchett's concept of witchcraft: the way Tiffany learns to use her First Thoughts and Second Thoughts and Third Thoughts, and "open your eyes, then open your eyes again." I love the memory of Granny Aching, who wasn't exactly a witch, but was there, and did what had to be done, and never lost a lamb. "Witches deal with things."

Then if all that wasn't enough, we get the Nac Mac Feegle. Just say that out loud. You have to read a book that has Nac Mac Feegle in them. Nothing I say about them will do them justice--but that's okay, you've already read The Wee Free Men, so you know what I mean.

And all this was supposed to be a review of I Shall Wear Midnight, the fourth Tiffany Aching book. So if I'm preaching to the converted, and you just want to know if the latest book lives up to our expectations for Tiffany: it does. Tiffany is now sixteen and living back with her family as the witch of the Chalk. There is realistic character development as she tries to fit herself into her new responsibility, and we're cheering for her. The ante is upped yet again, with an even more frightening villain: this book is the darkest of the four, because what Tiffany faces isn't just supernatural; it's the evil in men's hearts. But I was still laughing out loud on almost every page, unless I was crying. Sometimes both at once. There's a scene near the end that perfectly illustrates what I mean (it doesn't give any plot away):

There was a general murmuring from the other Feegles, on the broad theme of slaughter for whoever laid a hand on a Feegle mound, and how personally each and every one of them would regret what he would have to do.
"It's yon troosers" said Slightly-Thinner -Than-Fat-Jock-Jock. "Once a man gets a Feegle up his troosers, his time of trial and tribulation is only just beginning." . . .
Later in the conversation:
There was a glint in Wee Mad Arthur's eye that prompted Tiffany to ask, "How exactly did they commit suicide?"
The policeman Feegle shrugged his small broad shoulders. "They took a shovel to a Feegle mound, miss. I am a man who knows the law, miss. I never saw a mound until I met these fine gentlemen, but even so my blood boils, miss, it boils, so it does. My heart it does thump, my pulse it does race, and my gorge it arises like the breath of some dragon at the very thought of a bright steel shovel slicing though the clay of a Feegle mound, cutting and crushing. I would kill the man that does this, miss. I would kill him dead, and chase him through the next life to kill him another time, and I would do it again and again, because it would be the sin o' sins, to kill an entire people, and one death wouldnae be enough for recompense. However, as I am an aforesaid man of the law, I very much hope that the current misunderstanding can be resolved withoot the need for wholesale carnage and bloodletting and screaming and wailing and weeping and people having bits of themselves nailed to trees, such as has never been seen before, ye ken?"
Pratchett has such complete command of tone that it's possible to have tears of laughter streaming down your face while at the same time catching your breath with sympathetic horror, and in fact the horror is more real because the laughter has engaged your sympathy. Have I mentioned that I love the Nac Mac Feegles?

I Shall Wear Midnight is a very satisfying conclusion to the Tiffany Aching books, and now I think I'll reread all four of them, with a pen and paper to write down all the great little lines that I think I'll remember and then don't.

This series is like a really good breakfast buffet, with fresh pancakes and waffles and bacon and sausages and porridge made with cream and fruit and everything. And cheese, can't forget the cheese.


  1. I swear you must do nothing all day but read books. I read reasonably quickly, but with my life the way it is it can take me a week to two weeks to get through a decent-sized book.

    You need a KINDLE, desperately.

  2. And I've got a long list of books that I'm reading now, all the books that got me into sci-fi as a kid - the Isaac Asimov Robot and Foundations series', as well as I'm re-reading the Ender's game books (I've re-read ender's game several time since the first time i read it, but not speaker for the dead or the others), since it's been long enough that I don't remember all the story.

  3. Well, you have a full-time job. My job often involves periods of waiting for things (ie: kids at lessons, laundry): it's amazing how much you can get read in the interstices of time. And I can also procrastinate a lot of my tasks if I have a book I have to finish (which is always!). It's all starting to catch up with me now, however. My reading has slowed considerably in the last little while!

    I have an iPod touch, and I have a bunch of books on it, including Cryoburn (which was really good).

    Have you read Card's Worthing Saga? I got the first book out of the library a while ago but didn't get around to reading it. He's coming out with a new book in November that looks interesting, The Pathfinder. He's amazingly prolific!

  4. AGH! I meant to put myself on the reserve list for this today and forgot.

    For what it's worth, I think Terry Pratchett ought to be more well-known than he is. He deserves to be bigger than James Patterson and those people. And anyway, The Wee Free Men was my introduction to Pratchett, so a)I felt like I'd discovered something new and amazing when I read that, and I wondered why nobody'd ever told me I had to read him before; and b) I'm also one of your "already converted" ones. TOTALLY. SO MUCH. I am so looking forward to this book, and I probably should have just bought it....

  5. Great review! And I just got my copy of Cryoburn, too--woo-hoo!

  6. Kate--I'll be interested to know what you think of Cryoburn. I read a few people's responses that didn't like the parts from Roic and Jin's point of view, but I always like seeing the way other people see Miles.

    rockinlibrarian--I'm horrible about buying the next book in the series: my shelves are full of third and fourth books because I read the first one in the library and couldn't wait when the next one came out. I've also got many series with the first two in paperback and the last in hardcover. Wreaks havoc on my shelf organization (not that I have any, really!)!