Terry Pratchett’s 30th Discworld novel, called The Wee Free Men, introduced the world to the amazingly irascible, irreverently lovable Nac Mac Feegle. Oh, and Tiffany Aching. The lessons the nine-year old girl learned dueling with the Queen of Fairyland important, they were, however, not the whole story. Returning to the character for the 32nd novel, A Hat Full of Sky is the second Tiffany Aching story, and just as successful as the last.
Now older (eleven years old) and wiser (a survivor of the fight with the Queen), Tiffany is ready to take the next step in her education toward becoming a witch. Leaving her beloved Chalk and fields of sheep behind, she goes to study with the duplicitous Miss Level, an older witch living in the forest some distance away. All going well in Tiffany’s first days with Miss Level, a strange spirit called a hiver comes to haunt the land, however, dogging Tiffany’s steps. The Nac Mac Feegle aware of it too, they prepare themselves for a trip—Jeannie laying geas on them to protect Tiffany. Arriving too late, they, and Miss Level and Grany Weatherwax, must find a way to help Tiffany, or at least give her a way to help herself from the hiver.
The Wee Free Men making Tiffany aware of her First Sight and Second Thoughts, A Hat Full of Sky presents Third Thoughts. The eleven-year old having to dig deep within herself to overcome the obstacles laid before her, the novel is another step in her personal development. Presented rather simplistically (it is YA, after all), those adults who have never discovered their “Third Thoughts” would nevertheless do well to learn something from Tiffany’s experiences. The ending highly reminiscent of Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, sometimes good vs. evil is just the surface. (That Pratchett writes from a girl’s perspective, however, complements rather than imitates Le Guin’s work.)
A significantly different book tempo-wise, where Pratchett packed in a Lord of the Rings’ worth of action into The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky is a slowed down affair. Each scene unpacked for value, Tiffany’s encounters with the witches and girls living near Miss Level, the Feegles’ trip, their behind-the-scenes work, and Tiffany’s meeting with the hiver are related in detail. Pace never suffering, however, Pratchett uses his usual tricks (humor and commentary) to keep the ball rolling steadily forward.
In the end, A Hat Full of Sky is a more focussed novel than The Wee Free Men that presents the second stage in Tiffany Aching’s growing up. Like all of Pratchett’s YA novels, there is something for both the young and old as Tiffany learns new and interesting things about the world, society, and how self-awareness is more important than living a reactionary life focused only on what others around you are doing. And the Nac Mac Feegle? They are just as delightfully roguish as they always have been…