Book blurb: Wintersmith – Terry Pratchett

The Discworld Series, by Terry Pratchett, has to be Tuxedo’s and my favourite reading material.  One or other of the thirty-odd books is first choice for our “bedtime story” (we read a chapter or two of something aloud to each other at bedtime every night – you may shudder at the saccharine but we enjoy it and it helps lull us to sleepytime mode).  While each book can be read as a stand alone it helps immensely to have read them in order; for plot, backstory and most importantly, character development.

For character is what Pratchett does best.  Many shy away from Discworld because it’s categorised as “fantasy” – and yes, it does have trolls and vampires and werewolves, oh my, and magic rather than physics is the guiding principle (and it rides on the back of four giant elephants carried by a space turtle) – but few fantasy novels, let alone straight fiction, have such great well developed characters.  Ask any Pratchett fan who their favourite DW character is and you’ll hear yelps of “Vimes! Granny Weatherwax! No – DEATH!”.  (I tie between Sam Vimes and Granny, personally.  Not to mention Foul Ol’ Ron; “Buggrit, Millennium hand and shrimp, Burning my eyes with rays” etc.)

There are recurring characters and story arcs within the series as a whole – from City Watch to the Witches – as well as one-offs, and the recurring characters do not remain the same.  They develop, aspects of their personality and past are revealed, their motives and psychology.  This is one of the many elements of the series that make it so fascinating and rewarding.

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Tiffany Aching is one such recurring character, within the Wee Free Men/Nac Mac Feegle series; classified as juvenile fiction it is rewarding for kids and adults alike, being written at different levels and with sly references that kids won’t get but adults will.  We first meet potential-witch Tiffany at the age of nine, in The Wee Free Men, when with the assistance of the drinking’, fightin’ and stealin’ little blue men (think Gaelic sidhe meets Artful Dodger) she rescues her little brother – and the total twit, Roland – from the Queen of the Fairies and throws her out of her country. 

At eleven, in A Hat Full Of Sky, Tiffany is training to be a witch with Miss Level, and as well as adjusting to her new life and Miss Level’s idiosyncrasies, Tiffany has to take on the hiver, a millennia-old body-stealing demon.

Wintersmith is the latest and third book about Tiffany.  Her power as a witch has developed but as the blurb says, she has to face her most difficult problem yet – a boy (Roland has grown as a character too and is nowhere near the twit he was; he is most-definitely-NOT-her-boyfriend – methinks she dost protest too much?).  In fact, the Wintersmith is an elemental, the anthropomorphic incarnation of Winter, and when Tiffany attracts his attention he gets quite the crush.  But he’s not human, has never been a “boy” before, and hasn’t met a girl before.  So while most thirteen year old boys have to cope with pimples, a breaking voice and show their affection by merciless teasing, the Wintersmith makes her ice roses, sends down billions of tons of snowflakes in Tiffany’s image, and creates Tiffany-shaped icebergs in shipping lanes causing numerous Titanic re-enactments.

And he won’t go away – which means there will be never-ending harsh winter, and Summer won’t come unless Tiffany finds a way to deal with him.

The Nac Mac Feegles are along for the ride as usual, and old favourites Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg join the cast, as do members of Tiffany’s cadet witch coven, and Miss Treason, Tiffany’s new “boss” … oh and there’s a very lively cheese called Horace, too.

. . . . . . . . . .

Tiffany has developed a great deal since her appearance in The Wee Free Men;  she’s older, a bit wiser, a lot more powerful, still bossy and cocky yet aware of her limitations, and remains clueless about many things yet.  She’s also going through the “normal” emotional rollercoaster of being thirteen, which makes her current challenge even more difficult and complicated.   Tiffany is a very REAL teenager – she’s a delight to read, her dialogue and thought processes at the various levels – what she thinks, what she thinks she ought to be thinking, and conversely what not – are spot-on.  Pratchett gets her right, which many writers, whether juvenile fiction, young adult and especially fantasy, rarely do.

Her young friends have also done a lot of growing up since A Hat Full Of Sky; they also are more confident and learning the way of the world, yet know how far they still have to go.  The bitchy snarky Annagramma is a perfect character sketch of “that girl” at school, the one who told you weren’t allowed to wear YOUR pink dress to her party because she was wearing HERS – and then wore her green one out of spite (not that *I* ever wore pink, heaven forbid – or got invited to that sort of party for that matter, but you know what I mean). 

Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg make a wonderful team, and in Wintersmith the reader gains an additional appreciation for Nanny and her witching powers beyond what’s been revealed in past Discworld novels.  The rustic, earthy, raunchy humour Nanny brings to the plot is so much fun;  as is Tiffany’s new knowledge of romance and sex (“Is this going to be The Talk about SEX?” she enquires at one point, having grown up on a sheep farm and helped with lambing she thinks she knows all there is to know; human nature is a bit of an eye-opener).  How she deals with the Wintersmith and the denouement of the novel is simply beautiful and a great role-reversal of classic fairy-tales (there, I’ve given it away but if you knew Tiffany you would NOT be surprised).

The Nac Mac Feegles are, as ever, a joy.  You simply HAVE to read this book aloud to enjoy fully the give-and-take of Rob Anybody and his Clan.  The language is very much Glasgow – and exceedingly colourful, naturally – with all the head-butting and getting pished to match.

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Wintersmith is a great read, and again I’d advise reading it aloud, it’s a great giggle and for a “kids’ book” has plenty of thought-provoking points for discussion.  Pratchett to my mind just gets better and better, the adult Discworld novel released in 2007, Thud! was a masterpiece, and Making Money (published October 2007) which features Moist von Lipwig of Going Postal, this time introducing paper money to Ankh-Morpork and getting the Royal Mint up and running, looks to continue the trend.

So what next for Tiffany?  Is she back on The Chalk as a full witch for good now?  It certainly looks like it … but with lots of visits to Lancre to pick Granny’s mind I daresay.  Pratchett fans are expecting her to take over from Granny Weatherwax as head witch but nothing is ever as simple for the witches.  Book #4 – I Shall Wear Midnight – is due for publication in October 2008.

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