Ah, two Pratchett novels in less than 7 days! My mom got them for me for Christmas and I ended up reading them one right after the other, due to my current need for light reading to relieve stress.
I Shall Wear Midnight is the most recent installment in the Tiffany Aching series that Pratchett writes for the young ones. They follow the tales of Tiffany Aching, who starts off deciding to be a witch in The Wee Free Men and finally comes into her own as a witch in I Shall Wear Midnight.
My favorite Pratchett quote comes from The Wee Free Men, actually. It is sheer Tiffany, though she doesn’t say it, and goes as such:
“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.”
Tiffany is a great character. She’s smart, perceptive, and full of common sense. I’ve liked her in both books, even as she is noticeably more mature in this one. It’s hard to grow a character well, but Pratchett does it. Tiffany, from whose point of view the book is told, in third person limited, has a sympathetic yet firm way of looking at people. This is helpful, as a dark force is beginning to turn the population of the Chalk and Ank-Morpork against witches and Tiffany must find a way to save herself without turning against the very people she’s supposed to help.
The book starts off with (spoiler!) a man having brutally beaten his daughter. There are somewhat extenuating circumstances – dark forces are at work – and this and that happen, but in the end, the man never really receives punishment for his actions. In contrast, there is a female character who is rather unpleasant, yet still a good person, and she receives a distinct comeuppance.
Don’t get me wrong – there was a whole lot this book got right but… That really didn’t sit well with me. Perhaps because domestic violence, especially against women, too often goes unpunished in our society. Perhaps because the man who was deplorable but maybe redeemable didn’t require a punishment but the unpleasant yet good woman did; why is it easier to freely forgive a man beating his daughter than a woman being rude?
Anyway, onto things I really liked about this book. Tiffany, like I said, is amazing, and the whole crew – Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Oggs, and the Nac Mac Feegles – is there. I loved Tiffany’s insights into growing up female and her interactions with Leticia, the other main female character. Though they don’t quite develop a friendship, I thought the interactions between Tiffany and Leticia were the best parts of the book. I especially loved how Tiffany, now working full-time as a witch and making adult decisions on a daily, if not hourly, basis, does not let anyone call her (or Leticia) a girl.
Tiffany’s narration of the plot was a nearly perfect blend of observations, reactions, and analysis. Enough mundane things happened that you got a sense of who Tiffany is, and how the village runs, but never get bored. Then the exciting and adventurous things occur, of course, and while I got swept up in them, I never lost the narrator. It always felt like Tiffany was present and experiencing and reacting to the events rather than telling a story.
On the whole, it’s an excellent older child’s/YA fantasy book – better than most, I would say. But – Pratchett’s Aching novels always feel to me like a simpler, slightly diluted version of his adult work; a toning down of the sharpest edges of wit and very little cynicism. And I just prefer his adult novels. I read these ones when I have a chance – but I don’t seek them out.
On the whole, if you’re looking for a YA novel with witty observations and great humor, or if you love Pratchett, you should definitely try reading this book. If you don’t like escapism books that deliberately provoke thought, however humorously, or if you want your Pratchett with an adult edge, then, alas!, perhaps this isn’t the book for you.