Friday, August 31, 2012

Book Review (#2): I Shall Wear Midnight

I Shall Wear Midnight (by Terry Pratchett - though that's Sir Terry Pratchett to you, commoner!)

So here we are - the fourth and concluding volume of the Tiffany Aching series set in Pratchett's Discworld universe. For those of you sadly benighted enough not to already know, Terry Pratchett is arguably our finest living literary satirist, and despite operating primarily within the typically ghettoized fantasy milieu has earned enough recognition for it to be knighted by the Queen of England. Pratchett being an Englishman, you see. That tends not to happen otherwise.

Though the Tiffany Aching series is nominally YA, you wouldn't particularly know it - it reads pretty much like any other Discworld novel. The YA title seems to have been slapped on it as much because its protagonist (Miss Aching, of course) is young - fifteen-going-on-sixteen in this book. And I swear to God if any of you start so much as humming that thing from the Sound of Music just because the ages are close, I will reach right through your computer and slap you.

Ahem. So, totally-not-completely-empty-threats aside, here's what's going on - as you'd expect if you've read the prior volumes Tiffany Aching, young witch of the Chalk (a rural shepherding region that has never had a witch before), confronts a supernatural threat to herself and her community. And again, she'll do so with the help (whether desired or, indeed, actually helpful) of the Nac Mac Feegle, a clan of little blue pseudo-Scots notable for ferocity and capacity for both destruction and alcohol (which tend to be closely linked) that is wildly out of proportion for their minuscule size.

This time, the threat is (eventually) revealed to be the Cunning Man, an incorporeal spirit of spite and hate that far in the past used to be a human witch-hunter of remarkable brutality. Now it exists only to spread hate against witches as a kind of supernatural memetic plague, and also apparently to try to possess a witch (Miss Aching here, of course) to use her to do as much damage as possible. Not sure where that last part comes from to be honest - the first part makes sense, but the second? Well, whatever - it's in there.

So how is it this time around? Well, Pratchett seldom disappoints - even his lesser volumes tend to be better than the best of most. His ironic tone lends itself to both humor and unexpected insight as well as it ever has (that's well, in case you've still not got the point), and he manages to build the plot to an appropriately exciting conclusion - rather better than in the preceding volume, to be honest. His emphasis on how successful witchery is more a matter of perceptions and simply doing for the community what the community won't for itself than of dramatic magical affairs (except for when suddenly it's not, of course) is as welcome a grounding touch as ever, too.

Pratchett also gives writing a romance a shot here. He's attempted romantic elements before, and it's generally not been his strongest suit. Perhaps it's simply that the arch and ironic tone that serves him so well in other arenas is not necessarily best for something as earnest as romance (particularly of the youthful variety, one might expect). But he manages it here rather better than you might expect from what was just written. The build-up is as much in the background as anywhere, so one might complain that it comes almost out of the blue when it bursts forth so near to full-formed. But any such complaints ought to be silenced by how Pratchett uses it to end the book - with a concluding sentence that's as near to perfect as can reasonably be asked for.

So how good is it? It's damn good.


To check it out for yourself:

Or to get started at the beginning with the first couple books in the series together:

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