Saturday, February 26, 2011

I Shall Wear Midnight (by Terry Pratchett)

Like a pair of comfy old slippers, reading Terry Pratchett's latest Discworld book - I Shall Wear Midnight - is a familiar, pleasant experience for me that is enjoyable and welcome. Although set on the Discworld, like Nation it is one of Terry's "young adult" books and therefore slightly separate from the main Discworld series. Again, the only real differences between this and his more 'adult' books are that the protagonist is a girl (well, now a young woman), it has a linear narrative which almost exclusively follows this single protagonist, and it has chapters. It really is just a standard Pratchett book that's trying to muscle in on the lucrative Harry Potter market.

The book follows on from Wintersmith and Hat Full of Sky with Tiffany Aching settled into her role as the fully-fledged witch of the Chalk (a remote-ish part of the Discworld countryside not far from the mountains). Together with her 'friends', the Nac Mac Feegles - little blue gnomes or pixies with more than a hint of rough gaelic about them - she helps out the people of the Chalk in her own wise witchery sort of way.

However, trouble is brewing. Her defeat of the Wintersmith with a kiss have released the Cunning Man, an evil vengeful spirit - well, more of a rumour really - that leads folk to hate and distrust pointy-hatted witches. Or any old woman who happens to spend far too much time on her own and has her own broomstick - like the older witch in black Tiffany keeps catching glimpses of and seems to be watching her. The Cunning Man, a frightening phantom with holes for eyes, is coming for Tiffany and as he gets closer he causes more and more unrest.

Meanwhile, there's a hare who keeps leaping through fire and disappearing. Is it some sort of omen?

I suspect this is the last Tiffany Aching book - not that it'll stop the character appearing in other books of course - as here Tiffany's role in the countryside is firmly established and her future (or at least potential future) assured. She finds a sort of love, not with the old Baron's son who takes over running the place when his father dies, but with perhaps an unlikely, intriguing, and somewhat inept guard. And, of course, she eventually does wear midnight - but only when she's 'old'.

One of the highlights in the story is when Tiffany, the latest witch to be helped by Granny Weatherwax meets up with first 'witch' to be trained by aforementioned Mistress Weatherwax. Eskarina "Esk" Smith hasn't been seen since waaay back in the third Discworld book (Equal Rites) over 20 years ago and it's great to see that this character hasn't been forgotten - or, at least, has finally been remembered in time for an encore.

Overall, this was a relatively quick, easy and fun book full of Pratchett's intelligent but gentle humour and packed with interesting ideas. His main characters tend to be a little too wise and clever and thus, in this book, you never really get the sense that Tiffany is truly threatened. Otherwise, a refreshingly entrancing read that was difficult to put down.

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