I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett
Review by Joshua S Hill
One of my favourite authors is Terry Pratchett. There’s no secret to that if you’ve spent even a little bit of time browsing FBR; he notches ten-out-of-ten books regularly, in my opinion, and has one of the keenest minds and greatest storytelling abilities I’ve ever had the pleasure to read.
Not surprisingly then, Sir Pratchett has done it once again with his latest Discworld novel, ‘I Shall Wear Midnight’, the fourth in his Tiffany Aching series, following the trials and tribulations of a girl becoming a witch in a land that doesn’t want a witch.
I wonder whether someone who hasn’t read the previous three Tiffany books would enjoy this as much as someone who has. Much of the Tiffany story, for me at least, comes from having seen her grow up and fill into her role as the first witch of the Chalk. From nine years old Tiffany finds herself time and again having to deal with problems that no ordinary witch need deal with. And each time she does so with such skill and poise that it is no surprise she is being heralded as a very special witch.
Midnight takes place when Tiffany is not yet sixteen, and having to deal with problems nobody else is willing to deal with. That’s the job of a witch. You do the thing in front of you, and then you do the next thing.
Once again Pratchett writes the mind of a teenage girl perfectly, or so I think, never having been one myself. But considering that Pratchett was never a teenage girl either, you can’t help but assume that he has it right on the money. The lack of knowledge she has about some topics (pink inflatable wossnames) mixes wonderfully with a mass of understanding that even her father fails to grasp. She’s naïve and wise, ignorant and informed, all in one pretty little bundle.
And let’s be honest here. I’ve been in love with Tiffany since the first moment I met her. She is the perfect fantasy character, not stupid but not all knowing. She learns. She understands her limits. She thinks things through and then let’s her second and third thoughts think on the things that she has thought.
Midnight happens quickly. Maybe five days takes place, at best, and Pratchett seems to write ensuring that he gets everything in there in as fast as possible. This makes for some head spinning action and narrative, leaving you wondering where the extra pages went or whether Pratchett’s desk has a larger draft somewhere.
Surprisingly the early third of this book is a little rough, leaving you feeling as if you’ve missed something, or are missing something. I’m not sure that I did, but I will reserve judgement until I’ve read it again.
And I will be reading it again. The book had me in tears by the end, tears of joy at having read such a wonderful story. It was both heart-warming and cheer-worthy, and I couldn’t help but notice my heart beat faster as the story reached its climax and then it’s ending. This is definitely a book – much like many of Pratchett’s books – which will have re-readability for years to come. And I look forward to rereading it as soon as possible.
As for a rating? I can’t. Not yet. Probably 9 out of 10, but maybe a perfect 10. It’s hard to tell right now. And honestly? That’s sort of nice.
Bob from Somewhere
Witches have had a bad press down the years. Cackling, evil figures who capriciously turn people into amphibians just because they can, dunking and/or burning is too good for them. Yet the witch is also a figure who represents power wielded with wisdom, the wise woman with a healer’s eye for the fragility of life. The tension between these two folk figures has been at the centre of Terry Pratchett’s depictions of witches in the Discworld almost from the start. Pratchett has never before explored what happens when ordinary people turn against witches, when a hysterical Salem moment is in the offing, when mob misrule takes over and every witch is an evil cackler rather than a wise-woman. How and why might this happen? To answer these questions, Pratchett turns once again to Tiffany Aching, the witch of the Chalk. Tiffany is an older-than-her-years teenager with, if not quite the weight of the world on her shoulders, at least the weight of the villages she serves. She’s a working witch, which is, in the Discworld, is akin to being a district nurse/social worker, but with serious attitude. But trouble is coming. An evil figure has awakened, a spiteful, jealous creature that preys on people’s minds and turns them against witches: the Cunning Man. He, or more accurately it, is a figure that Tiffany will have to face down alone. Oh, other witches might offer advice before the final showdown, but there are some battles a witch needs to fight by herself if she’s truly to command respect. But if this sounds rather solemn, then rest assured that around this central narrative, Pratchett’s trademark humour is as much in evidence as ever, (a selfish nurse tells Tiffany that she’s “never been so insulted before” in her life: “Really?” said Tiffany. “I’m genuinely surprised.”) In addition, the Nac Mac Feegles are on hand to provide slapstick moments involving fighting and drinking as well as an elder witch called “Nanny” Ogg who doesn’t have a problem with drinking a little too much then singing the night away. But that doesn’t mean the book lacks depth and similarities to reality. The Chalk setting vividly brings to mind the southern England landscape where the writer has made his home. Most of all there’s the sense that Pratchett understands village life down to the core of his being – its rhythms, its joys and its considerable frustrations too. Pratchett has one of the keenest minds and greatest storytelling abilities I’ve ever had the pleasure to read, so it doesn’t surprise me that this is a great book that will no doubt be read over and over for quite a while.
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