Series: Discworld | Genre: Fantasy/MG/YA | Edition: Paperback | Publisher: Corgi | My rating: 5/5
Up on the Wold, there’s a monster in the river and a headless horseman in the drive. And now Granny Aching has gone, there’s only young Tiffany Aching left to guard the boundaries. To stop … things getting through.It’s her land. Her duty.But it’s amazing how useful a horde of unruly pictsies can be – as long as they are pointed in the right direction and can stop fighting each other first …
The Wee Free Men is the first book in the Tiffany Aching Sequence, a ‘miniseries’ set in the Discworld universe that Terry Pratchett is famous for. Normally I wouldn’t bother to pick up much of anything labeled MG, as I prefer my fiction of the definitively more adult variety…
But this. This. Tiffany Aching is my exception to the rule. It is more than suitable for younger readers, and if I should ever have a chance to read to children this would be my book of choice – but that’s not to say that I didn’t absolutely love reading it just for me. I am an enormous fan of the Discworld stories in general, and I absolutely loved this book.
If you’ve read Pratchett’s Discworld novels before (all or just a few, in order or out of it, it’s no matter) then you may very well know exactly what I mean when I use phrases like “sharp enough to cut you” and “helpless laughter”, here. (And if you don’t, or these books don’t amuse you, then there is something wrong with you, my friend.)
First, the laughter. Pratchett’s use of humour in these books is one of the biggest selling points for them; never has any other author’s work and/or writing style managed to make me laugh out loud quite so hard or often as I do when reading any of Sir Terry’s books. By turns uproarious and sly, it’s a true talent and, no doubt, a well-honed skill to be able to make your readers laugh until they snort their tea (I cleaned up after myself, don’t worry) and have tears in their eyes. Heck, it’s been a couple of days since I finished this book and I still catch myself remembering parts and laughing all over again. I’m starting to get Looks, I’m sure.
Now, the sharpness. In most, if not all, of Pratchett’s stories there is some mirror-of-reality element present, and if I had to pick one out of the story in this book, it is the human tendency to ostracise or be suspicious of that which is different. You know how it goes. Someone you know is ‘a bit odd’, or thinks in ways we don’t completely understand … Were this a school playground, we’d probably pick on that person, or ignore them if they’re just a bit too weird. Tiffany Aching would probably be that person. For a nine year old girl, she has some ‘odd’ thoughts in her head. Specifically, Second Thoughts. That’s to say, Tiffany is a child who really uses her head – and given the way children are given to seeing what’s right in front of them more often than most adults do, this makes Tiffany very ‘odd’ indeed.
(Tiffany’s my kind of kid.)
Throughout the book, we are given golden moments in Tiffany’s recollection of her Granny Aching, who – if you’ve read previous Discworld novels featuring witches – was very, very possibly a witch herself. Tiffany has the makings of a clever witch indeed, but the only one who could have helped her has already gone. These flashback moments are standout scenes in the book for me, being very poignant and intriguing at the same time. Granny Aching is clearly a very fascinating character in her own right, and I’m almost sorry that we won’t get to see more of her in the subsequent books.
Another element of this book that I loved was the ‘unreality’ of Pratchett’s version of Fairyland. The parallels with dream-states, and the way that the Fairy Queen (aka The Villain) perceives children is a wonderfully thought-provoking take on that staple of most children’s stories. There’s also the inclusion of a delightfully creepy kind of monster, a Drome, that delighted my dark fairytale-loving heart. This is how children’s fairy stories should go! (You know, if you’re That Kind of child … Why are you looking at me that way?)
Augh! I just can’t wax lyrical enough about this book. I have absolutely no complaints. It was a joy to read, from start to finish, and is definitely worth rereading.