Monday, December 27, 2010
I Shall Wear Midnight
In 1983 a book called A Colour of Magic hit the bookshelves. It was a strange little volume about a disc shaped world, supported on the backs of 4 elephants, who in turn were standing on the back of a space turtle, and the largely insane and magical inhabitants of said world, which came to be known as Discworld. That was 27 years and 38 books ago. Discworld's creator; Terry Pratchett has become one of the world's most loved fantasy authors and been knighted for his efforts.
Over the years the Discworld series has evolved into a number of separate threads (Rincewind, Death, The Witches, The City Watch, etc...) depending on which character or character grouping the books deal with. I Shall Wear Midnight is the 4th of the Tiffany Aching novels, because Tiffany herself is a witch and the books feature some of the other Discworld witches such as Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, the Tiffany books belong to The Witches category, but they're also rather more YA in tone than the other Discworld books, probably because Tiffany is a young adult (nearly sixteen in I Shall Wear Midnight) and they feature a tribe of mad, little blue creatures called the Nac Mac Feegle, also known as the Wee Free Men. So Tiffany kind of occupies a category all of her own.
In The Wee Free Men, an eleven year old Tiffany goes into the world of the elves with her friends the Nac Mac Feegle in order to rescue her baby brother and this is when she first becomes interested in following in her grandmother's foot steps as the witch of the Chalk. Even then the Feegles were calling her the 'big wee hag' (hag is their word for witch).
In A Hat Full of Sky Tiffany finds out that even a witch can be corrupted and has to fight off the malevolent presence of the Hiver. Death comes in rather handy here.
The last time we saw Tiffany in Wintersmith she was trying to prevent an eternal winter along with the Feegles and Roland; the son and heir of the local baron.
When I Shall Wear Midnight opens, a fifteen year old Tiffany Aching has largely taken on the duties of the witch of the Chalk by herself. Presumably at some stage either Granny Weatherwax or Nanny Ogg will come by to see how she's doing, but she seems to be handling herself just fine. That is until the ailing baron dies while Tiffany is easing his pain, and she finds herself accused of causing his death and stealing from him in the process. To complicate matters even more an evil presence of a long dead witch hunter is preying on people near to Tiffany and trying to kill her. Tiffany has to deal with that, put the new baron; Roland, on track, while trying to understand her own feelings for the boy she grew up with and now has to see married to the somewhat scatter brained and spoiled Letitia (who may herself be a witch, even though she's totally unsuited for it and doesn't understand), try and keep the Feegles under control, live up to the responsibilities of being the Chalk's sole witch and see to the regions well being. It's a lot for a fifteen year old girl to handle, but if any girl on Discworld or anywhere else can do so it will be Miss Tiffany Aching, the 'big wee hag' o the Chalk.
Sir Terry Pratchett is in vintage form in I Shall Wear Midnight. One page the reader is chortling away about tales of dangerous cheeses and the antics of the Feegle and the next weeping at the situation the town drunk finds himself in after having nearly beaten his own daughter to death. Although the Tiffany Aching novels tend to be classified as YA, I Shall Wear Midnight transcended that label and became a fully fledged Discworld book. Tiffany even took a trip to Ankh Morpork and dealt with the City Watch, mostly their Feegle guardsman; Wee Mad Arthur.
Terry Pratchett has always had an amazing skill with words. He somehow seems to make them say exactly what he wants and go beyond that function. The following two passages are, to me, an example of that:
'The girl was sitting on her bed, twisting a handkerchief - a clean one, Tiffany was pleased to see - and looking worried, which was to say more worried than her usual expression, which was that of a hamster that had had its treadmill stopped'
'But generally speaking when Nanny Ogg came out with a silly, embarrassing comment by accident, it was because she had thought about it very carefully beforehand. Tiffany knew this,and Nanny certainly knew that Tiffany knew, and Tiffany knew that too. But it was often the kind of way that witches behaved, and it all worked perfectly if nobody picked up an axe.'
I Shall Wear Midnight contains the authors signature footnotes, the appearance of Death (he seems to be limited to one appearance per book these days, maybe his fees got too steep), an amusing Feegle glossary written by the very proper Miss Perspicacia Tick (she describes pished as meaning tired) and an author's note which explains where one of the books key concepts came from.
I can't speak highly enough of this book and I am stunned that Terry Pratchett hasn't even been nominated for a Hugo, let alone won a rocketship, yet. 2011 could be the year. He'd be a very popular and worthy winner.