I found myself with a slight crisis recently, short on books and still waiting on holds, wandering the shelves of my tiny local library looking for something to carry me through the week…and was delighted to stumble upon I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett. Discworld is the one series I somehow feel no pressure to finish–it’s too big and too rambling and I just dip in at random whenever I feel so inclined. But the Tiffany Aching subseries as always felt much more self-contained and continuous, so I have been meaning to finish that off.
The final book in the sub-quartet presents Tiffany Aching at sixteen, still new to her role as Witch of the Chalk, but settling into the position. But Tiffany’s dance with the Wintersmith in the previous book has awoken an ancient evil–one who hates witches. With hostility towards witches rising throughout the land, Tiffany must find a way to fight through the fear and prejudice to confront its root. And that while dealing with the upcoming wedding of Roland, her some-time beau, and the sometimes harmful help of her devoted allies, the Nac Mac Feegles.
I love the way Pratchett has presented Tiffany’s growth throughout the quartet. She has always been someone who does what needs doing, from rescuing her little brother from a Fairy Queen in the first book, to the unglamorous witch work of caring for the ill, elderly and forgotten in this final book. Tiffany has gained wisdom and confidence all along the way, but like life, it’s often been a few steps forward, a stumble or two back, a redirection and a new leap ahead. Tiffany’s not only learned how to fulfill her role, she’s very consciously had to figure out what that role is, and how she wants to fulfill it. Pratchett has done a masterful job of keeping Tiffany always the same person, while growing her throughout the series.
And then there are the Nac Mac Feegles, the Wee Free Men, the drinking, fighting, carousing, honor-bound (but always their own interpretation of honor!) clan who swore loyalty to Tiffany as the Hag o’ the Hills and will stick with her through thick and thin, no matter how many times she tells them to go away. I love how well Tiffany understands them by now, and her back and forth with them is hilariously brilliant. For instance, she’s somewhat less than surprised–and remarkably calm–when Daft Wullie sets fire to her broomstick in midair, and staunchly denies responsibility while holding a lit match…
I also appreciated that Rob Anybody, the Nac Mac Feegle chief, did get one moment of more depth. The Nac Mac Feegles, basically, are never serious…until the humans try to dig up the Nac Mac Feegle hill, and for just a moment we glimpse a very real fear and anger from Rob Anybody about his wife and children. I’m not sure I really want more than one serious moment from the Nac Mac Feegles, but one was perfect.
Having read other Discworld books, I enjoyed a cameo for Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg. It’s always fun to see familiar characters from a different perspective, and I liked seeing them through Tiffany’s eyes–still the same characters as when they tell the story themselves, but with maybe a little more awe mixed in.
Pratchett’s books are all the more remarkable for being hilariously funny, while sharply insightful in their satire. Here he personifies a familiar and particularly ugly side of human nature, the hatred of the Other simply because they’re Other. Or as was said in another fantasy story, “we don’t like what we don’t understand; in fact, it scares us” (Beauty and the Beast, “The Mob Song”). There it was against the Beast; here it’s against the witches, and there’s an added subtlety in the sense that part of the hatred comes because people know that the witches do what needs doing–what people guiltily realize they ought to be doing themselves and aren’t.
I already own all the City Guard Discworld books, and I think I need to start collecting the Tiffany Aching books. They’re both my favorite kind of comedy–we have one stable, complex main character to ground us and guide us through the constant hilarity of everyone else around them. This book was a wonderful end to the quartet, hilarious, insightful and deeply satisfying.
Author’s Site: http://www.terrypratchettbooks.com/
Buy it here: I Shall Wear Midnight