Saturday, March 12, 2016

Review of I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

The appreciative Discworld and YA reader has read with delight, humor, and head-nodding understanding the adventures of Tiffany Aching and her erstwhile protectors, the Nac Mac Feegle, as they live and learn on the Disc.  Rescuing her brother from the Queen of the Fairies in The Wee Free Men to her ill-advised first kiss in Wintersmith, we have grown alongside the girl from the Chalk as she becomes a witch.

Now aged sixteen, I Shall Wear Midnight finds Tiffany as the Chalk’s only practicing witch.  Dealing with all problems—physical, domestic, and farm-related—she must also deal with her neighbors’ developing prejudices toward witches.  Trouble brews when the Baron dies under Tiffany’ care.  His staff accusative, Tiffany is forced to go to Ankh-Morpork to inform Roland of his father’s death and attempt to remain on the right side of justice.  Running into all sorts of witches she’d never met before in the big city, she likewise makes a new enemy, the soulless Cunning Man.  The Nac Mac Feegle tagging along, chaos erupts when Tiffany finds herself in jail, forcing the teen witch to the extent of her wits to be true to herself.

Tackling the fairy tale stereotype that witches are evil, Pratchett, with his consummate skill, manages to make his deconstruction likewise personal and productive.  I Shall Wear Midnight, on top of bearing his characteristic wit and charm, re-visions the female magic-worker to positive shine, and for this deserves mention alongside writers like Ursula Le Guin, Diana Wynne Jones, Daniel Abraham, Vonda McIntyre, and Tanith Lee who have taken their own routes toward this same goal.  One of the scenarios illustrating Tiffany’s performance in this arena is her handling of an abusive man living in the Chalk.  Where the villagers would have killed him for the treatment of his daughter, Tiffany finds her own solution. Informative without using a heavy hand, moral without proselytizing, and above all, practical without going through step by step instructions: the message is embedded in Tiffany’s actions as much as her words, making for quality reading.

The Nac Mac Feegle return—and with a a bit of fresh wind.  In Wintersmith their presence seemed a bit perfunctory, like sideshow clowns that spouted tried and true one liners and were up to colorful antics but who also distracted from the novel’s main thrust, or at least were not always wholly congruous.  In I Shall Wear Midnight Pratchett returns to old form. Organic to the story, he finds interesting nooks and crannies for the fighting and drinking little blue guys to occupy with significance but without taking over.  In short, they once again become a delightful, complementary addition to Tiffany’s plight.  Out of the country and into the big city, their interaction with Ankh-Morpork is glorious fun.

Pratchett having a larff with Ankh-Morpork, he also takes advantage of Tiffany’s trip to include characters from other Discworld sub-series.  Sometimes natural to plot (e.g. Vimes, Carrot and the City Watch’s arrival on scene at one point) and sometimes not (e.g. Esk’s appearances for bits of exposition), it will be up to the reader to decide how successful the integration is, how old characters are fairing, but in the least interesting to see the interaction of the various sub-series.

There were many who thought that I Shall Wear Midnight would be the last Tiffany Aching novel.  And indeed there are some subtle clues scattered throughout the story that would seem to indicate this.  Tiffany being sixteen years old is close to the end point of YA fiction.  Certain story threads passed on from the previous novels arrive at closure.  And there is an overall vibe of: there could always be more but this might be it, particularly in the epilogue.  But as Sir Terry’s curtain call, The Shepherd’s Crown was released, meaning there is at one last chapter in Tiffany’s story.

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