One of the great character templates in literature is the often dim-witted, often humorous sidekick who is allowed a moment of center stage wisdom. If done poorly, it can be nothing short of horrible. But when it is done well, there is seldom anything that can beat it. And in a series of more than 30 books that are all pigeon-holed into the fantasy/comedy genre, Terry Pratchett has made attempting this template into an art form.
In the second entry in the Tiffany Aching series of books, and his 32nd visit to the Discworld, A Hat Full of Sky continues Terry Pratchett’s brilliant look into the world of a young witch: this time, with more angst.
But it isn’t angst that will drive you crazy, like so many authors somehow manage effortlessly. No, Tiffany Aching experiences the angst expected of 11 year old girls that have all of a sudden been thrust away from home and into a world that isn’t as expected, and contains girls like Annagramma: ie, mean, spiteful, and literally stupid (you’ll get that joke when you read the book).
Two years after she cast the Queen from her land, Tiffany Aching leaves the Chalk to learn witching from Miss Level, a singularly talented witch (that’s another joke). But in the process, poor Tiffany finds herself the victim of an ancient evil, all because she is just as powerful as Granny Weatherwax supposes she is. But with second and third thoughts in tow, as well as the Nac Mac Feegle, Tiffany has a slim hope of making it out alive.
In the review for The Wee Free Men, I mentioned my love for the character of Tiffany. I could go on, but I would just be repeating myself. This is not Pratchett’s first foray into writing, obviously, and so Tiffany doesn’t get better, she is just as good as last time, you just find out more. Tiffany is precocious, smart and everything you’d want in a daughter or big sister (but probably not what you want in a little sister). You continue to fall in love with her like you think it’d be like falling for your best friend.
So where can I point my focus then? Well if you’ve read the book, you know who I’ll pick from the opening paragraph. For those who don’t, I’m focusing on the sidekick, for lack of a better word.
Rob Anybody, Big Man of the Chalk clan, is possibly one of the funniest and simultaneously most endearing characters I’ve ever come across. The Nac Mac Feegle are written to be funny; there’s no two ways about that. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t also be wise, smart (well…), brave, witty and honest. In fact, it is their inherent humorous insanity and obsessive love of fightin’, drinkin’ and stealin’ that, when they have their “center stage wisdom” moments, makes the moments all the more important and moving.
Scenes in which Rob Anybody, primarily, uses his head for “thinkin’ and not headbuttin’” are ones that are treasured, in my opinion. It is these moments that you the wisdom, not only inherent in these age old creatures that are much more inherent to and in tune with the land around them, but of Pratchett himself.
'If you'll tak' my advice, you'll no' do that,' said Rob Anybody from Tiffany's ankle. 'I dinnae trust the scunner one wee bitty!'
'There's part of me in there. I trust that,' she said. 'I did say you don't have to come, Rob.'
'Oh, aye? An' I'm ta' see you go through there alone, am I? Yell not find me leavin' you now!'
'You've got a clan and a wife, Rob!'
'Aye, an' so I willnae dishonour them by lettin' yer step across Death's threshold alone,' said Rob Anybody firmly.
So, thought Tiffany as she stared through the doorway, this is what we do. We live on the edges. We help those who can't find the way...
The above quote is an example, not so much of the wisdom, but of the bravery and spirit that we hope lives in us. That is much of what fantasy literature is; showing us images and characters that you hope reside somewhere in you, but hidden beneath the day and age we live in. That Pratchett manages to still convey these thoughts and imagery in a book that is predominantly a laugh-riot is testament to his skill as a writer.
A Hat Full of Sky is definitely worth your attention, but you don’t want to pick it up without The Wee Free Men. With any luck, you will have already picked up The Wee Free Men and want to read A Hat Full of Sky because you want to keep reading the story, at which point you will continue to read into Wintersmith.
Either way, the Tiffany Aching series of books are not only prime examples of top notch writing, but such a fun read that you won’t want to put them down. So be warned, if you need to be up early the next day, don’t pick this up; wait until you’ve got a weekend, and a lot of spare time.
Review by Joshua S Hill
9.5/10 from 1 reviews
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