With the success of The Wee Free Men and A Hat Full of Sky, spunky, pint-sized, witch-in-training Tiffany Aching has proven one of the strongest rays of Discworld sunshine. Bolstered by the (b)roguish capers of the inimitable Nac Mac Feegle, her development continues in Wintersmith (2006), the third Tiffany Aching story. Faced with her first boyfriend, once again she must look within herself (her Second and Third thoughts) to see beyond the surface of troubles past and troubles future.
Now thirteen years old, Wintersmith opens with Tiffany apprenticing to Miss Treason, a 113 year old witch whose eccentricity for black cannot compare to the twinkle in her eye and knack for dealing with the locals’ domestic problems. The pair going to the Night Dance in the early going of the story, Tiffany breaks into dance in an impulsive moment, and in turn breaks the cycle of winter into summer. The Wintersmith coming to look for her in the aftermath of the debacle, he begins lavishing gifts—as only the Wintersmith can—on the young teen. His advances becoming stronger, Tiffany must sort out her thoughts to bring warmth back into her life as winter settles in.
But can she?
If Wintersmith were a romance, it would be the classic “girl-falls-in-love-with-boy-she-shouldn’t”. While Pratchett interweaves the subjects of death of loved ones and dealing with troublesome people you must work with, the conclusion centers on the difficulties Tiffany gets herself into with the Wintersmith, and how she extricates herself. The lesson an important one for impressionable young people, it’s only in presentation that problems appear in the novel, as thematically it’s as solid as the previous books.
While Pratchett should be lauded for including symbolism in a YA novel, the manner in which it is utilized does not allow the metaphor to ring true. The Wintersmith is obviously intended to be a stand-in for the aggressive young man who attempts to woo a young lady with gift upon gift but is ultimately an empty, self-seeking soul. But the reader can never be fully convinced. Pratchett too caught up in the history of paganism behind the Wintersmith, the manner in which Tiffany is symbolized near the conclusion tears the metaphor in two, and thus is confusing. Is she the ying to the Wintersmith’s yang? Or is she simply empowered via parallels to the Summer Lady? Roland is a nicely juxtaposed, but ultimately the symbolism inherent to the relationship between Tiffany and the Wintersmith is unclear.
Moreover, the Nac Mac Feegle, while still delightful and shining every moment on the page, nevertheless feel a forced element of Wintersmith. The reader can almost see Pratchett groping for reasons to include them in the story. As a result they make token appearances but are not integrated into the plot in the same key fashion as previous Tiffany Aching novels.
In the end, Wintersmith is not as strong as The Wee Free Men and A Hat Full of Sky, but is still an enjoyable romp with the Nac Mac Feegle and Tiffany Aching. The teen girl learning about love and life, as usual Pratchett does not sugar coat the proceedings and keeps the morals grounded in a reality more practical than fairy tales. The pagan rituals and gods of summer and winter underpinning the plot, Pratchett keeps the narrative enjoyably bucolic, just unsure how the underlying symbolism lays out.