June 18, 2004

A Hat Full Of Sky, by Terry Pratchett

This is Pratchett's latest juvenile and his latest Discworld book; it's also the sequel to The Wee Free Men, which I reviewed last month.

I read it aloud to Jane, and we both loved it.

The Wee Free Men introduced us to a young girl named Tiffany Aching. She lives on a sheep farm in the Chalk country, and is in charge of the dairy. She's also a budding witch, which in the Discworld is a sort of combination of country doctor, clinical psychologist, and defender of the neighborhood from evil forces. She first assumes her role as defender of the neighborhood when she clobbers a nasty monster from Faerie with a cast iron skillet, having first staked out her little brother as bait. (Witches are not generally particularly sentimental, but they get the job done.) Later she has to rescue her little brother from the Queen of Faerie, which she does with the help of the Nac Mac Feegle, the Wee Free Men of the title.

The Nac Mac Feegle are fairies of a sort; at least, they lived in Faerie until the Queen cast them out for being drunk and disorderly. They are about six inches tall, are tattooed a vivid blue color, have red hair with a variety of objects plaited into it, and wear kilts. Some call them "pictsies" (a name I wish I'd thought of, darn it! though I doubt I'd have made a quarter as good a use of it if I had). The only thing that makes them happier than drinking is fighting--which, as they are immensely strong and nearly indestructible, they are exceedingly good at. And they are very fond of Tiffany, who they call their "Big wee hag."

At the conclusion of [btitle "The Wee Free Men"] Tiffany meets Granny Weatherwax, one of our favorite Pratchett characters, who is clearly very impressed--not that it's obvious to Tiffany. As there are no other witches in the vicinity, Granny tells her that she'll need to leave home for a while to train, if she's to develop her skills.

[btitle "A Hat Full Of Sky"] begins a couple of years later, just as Tiffany is leaving home. She's going to spend a year apprenticed to a witch named Miss Level, learning what being a witch is all about. Unfortunately, there's a strange creature called a "hiver" that's determined to make things deadly difficult for her....

There's so much about the book that I like. The Feegles are a delightful creation; I particularly enjoyed watching a drunk Feegle get into a brawl with one of Miss Level's ceramic garden gnomes (the Feegle won). We get to see another side of Granny Weatherwax, which is neat. But my favorite part is probably the Witch Trials. You know, the Witch Trials? They hold them every year. All of the witches get together and have a competition to see who can do the neatest stuff. You know, like sheepdog trials.

Anyway, if you've not encountered the Discworld, you've been missing out. And if you're a fan but have not seen these particular books, check out the Young Adult section; they are well worth it. Order them if you have to.

Posted by Will Duquette at June 18, 2004 08:14 PM

Deb said:

So how does the title come into it?

Will Duquette said:

Shan't tell you. You'll have to read it to find out.

Deb said:

Weenie.