Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Favorite Reads of 2010: I Shall Wear Midnight

It's that time of year again--your friendly neighborhood librarians are eager to tell you about their favorite reads of 2010. Here is Melissa E. with a series review:

My vote goes to I Shall Wear Midnight, by Terry Pratchett. First of all, you should be aware that it is a sequel, and that you will probably need to read the preceding books to understand it; but that’s no chore, because they’re wonderful! This sub-series of Pratchett’s Disc World novels begins with The Wee Free Men (2004), followed by A Hat Full of Sky (2005), continuing with Wintersmith (2007), and concluding with I Shall Wear Midnight (2010).

I had never read any of Pratchett’s Disc World books (by the time I discovered him, there were 30-odd volumes, and there were so many other books in the world I wanted to read that the idea of taking on that long a series daunted me), but teen librarian Anarda assured me that the books about the young witch Tiffany Aching and her little blue compadres, while being set in the same universe, nonetheless stand alone as a series, and she was right.

The books begin when Tiffany is a girl of nine, living on the Chalk (similar to the Berkshire Downs in southern England) with her family. Though her life up to this point has been a round of sheep-minding, cheese-making, and watching her irritating little brother Wentworth, Tiffany is about to discover unexpected resources. The Queen of Faerie steals Wentworth away, and it is up to Tiffany, whose witchy powers are fast developing in response to this emergency, to get him back. Armed with an iron frying pan and accompanied by a magic toad (formerly a lawyer) and the Nac Mac Feegle, a band of six-inch-tall red-headed drunken thieving Scottish pictsies, she heads into Faerie to find the Queen and reclaim her brother.

The thing I like about the witchy element of these books is that Tiffany’s powers are earth-centered, practical, and focused on helping common folk. As her mentor, Miss Tick, says, “Witches don’t use magic unless they really have to.” Instead they pay attention, use their brains and instincts, and figure things out. Tiffany is supremely good at this.

Tiffany grows up and into her witchcraft throughout the four books, and, in I Shall Wear Midnight, is the teenage witch of the Chalk—she has studied extensively with the senior witches, and now she’s on her own, caring for her particular patch of ground and the people who live there. In this book, the Baron of the Chalk has just died, and Tiffany must break the news to her former childhood friend Roland, the heir, who has turned into a pompous idiot and who is set to marry a weepy, snivelly sort of girl for whom Tiffany can muster no respect whatsoever. As if that weren’t enough, things become perilous when she discovers she is being stalked by a creepy eyeless man who stinks of horror and who is somehow causing people (including some of those she cares for) to hate and distrust all witches.

I love the masterful way Pratchett combines reality and fantasy. His humor is delightful (a witch called Miss Tick and the head of the thieving Feegles named Rob Anybody are two small examples), but it is the juxtaposition of this humor with such serious issues as compassion, prejudice, responsibility, abuse, and death that make them truly great reads. Tiffany Aching and the Wee Free Men will remain favorites. And although these books are in the children’s and teens’ collections, books such as these know no boundaries—they’re satisfying for all ages! (The Middle School Book Club at the Central Library is reading the first book this month.)

Terry Pratchett sold his first story when he was 13, and has been a full-time writer since 1987. Some of his awards and honors include: The Carnegie Medal, Locus Awards, the Mythopoetic Award, ALA Notable Books for Children, ALA Best Books for Young Adults (BBYA), Book Sense 76 Pick, Prometheus Award, and the British Fantasy Award. Oh, plus he was named an Officer of the British Empire "for services to literature" in 1998!

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