The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
Review by Joshua S Hill
When a new series begins, often you will expect book two to be better than book one, and so on. It makes sense. The writer will get better as they go on. Sadly, life is not always so neat, and there will be writers, like Terry Pratchett, who go out of their way to break the mould. This is what happened when Pratchett wrote The Wee Free Men, the first in a quartet of books but simultaneously the 30th book in his lovingly created Discworld.
As is mentioned in my Top 8 Fantasy piece that is linked through by name up there, *points* you’ll know that the Tiffany Aching series of books by Pratchett (alongside Night Watch) rank 11 out of 10 for me. But with a new rating system just around the corner, I feel happier not breaking mathematic laws and counting all four books as 100 out of 100. So if you don’t want to read a glowing recommendation of a book because your heart is a shriveled lump of coal long since devoid of emotion or joy, then go ahead and stop now.
For those of you who are more than willing, however, to be lead to read one of the greatest pieces of literature around, then keep reading.
The Wee Free Men begins the journey of Tiffany Aching, 9 years old with all the intelligence and mental acuity of a crotchety 91 year old. A better literary character might only be found in Sam Vimes, another Pratchett creation. It would be nice if, one day, Pratchett brought the two together. Of course, it could very well mean the end of the Discworld in a spectacular anti-explosion if they came head to head, not hip to hip.
'Tis the First Sight and Second Thoughts ye have, and 'tis a wee gift an' a big curse to ye. You see and hear what others canna', the world opens up its secrets to ye, but ye 're always like the person at the party with the wee drink in the orner who cannae join in. There's a little bitty bit inside ye that willnae melt and flow. Ye 're Sarah Aching's line, right enough. The lads fetched the right one
Tiffany’s story is nothing short of brilliant. Normally I would say that “it keeps getting better as the books go on,” but Pratchett has no need for a run up: he nailed it first time out of the box. With a trusty frying pan as her weapon, her grandmother’s legacy and the Nac Mac Feegle by her side, Tiffany ventures into the world of the Quin, I mean the Queen, and fighting off dreams, dream creatures and dreamers, finally steals back her sticky brother.
Pratchett writes Tiffany in such a way that one wonders whether Pratchett was once a 9-year old girl himself in a previous lifetime. She is arrogant and lost, proud and deeply troubled. But she never lets these get in the way of taking back what is rightfully hers (even if she doesn’t love him all that much).
The world of faerie is torn to shreds in this witty, humorous and always intelligent book. But even though mainstream press will focus entirely on Pratchett’s uncanny ability to satirically take apart our world, The Wee Free Men, the Tiffany Aching books together and all of the Discworld have always been much more than that. There is such humanity and feeling in the undercurrents of this book that you won’t be able to help but be taken back to your own childhood moments that have remained untainted by the harsh reality of adulthood.
And Tiffany had sat by the narrow bed and thought about Granny Aching, and about the little girl Sarah Grizzel very carefully painting the flowers in the book, and about the world losing its centre. She missed the silence. What there was now wasn't the same kind of silence there had been before. Granny's silence was warm, and brought you inside. Granny Aching might sometimes have had trouble remembering the difference between children and lambs, but in her silence you were welcome and belonged. All you had to bring was a silence of your own.
One would expect a “Young Adult Book” to be written with less panache or intelligence, but Pratchett comes from a school of adults who believe that to teach children, you must put something beyond their reach and ask them to grab for it. In this way this book is so very much more than just a book for “12 and up,” and simultaneously makes you think, feel, laugh and cry, no matter if your 12, 21 or 42.
If you’ve never touched the Discworld before, then this is where you start. You will crave for more of Tiffany, and when you’ve read all four (the fourth is coming out within the next year, hopefully) you’ll have a bounty of other Discworld books to move on to, all written with the same skill, love and providing the same enjoyment as you encountered when Tiffany breaks the Queen’s power.
Ryan from Newcastle, Australia
The Wee Free Men introduce us to Tiffany Aching, 9 year old, witch. When two universes collide, monsters from your worst nightmares.start pouring through into discworld. It is up to Tiffany Aching, with help from the Wee Free Men, to enter the other universe and stop the monsters at their source. I loved this book. Whenever Pratchett writes a story about witches they always have a unique sense of charm that is only matched by the Sam Vimes stories. It is very much a story about the characters and how they deal with a threat to their world. The plot is a little bit scattered and can be hard to follow/make sense of at times, but it still works. I think Pratchett could have substituted the plot for any number of plots that involve a threat to discworld, and you still would have had a charming story about a young witch wanting to protect her land heavy boots, a large frying pan, and a piece of string.
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