I Shall Wear Midnight (Discworld #38, Tiffany Aching #4)

Aching4I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Anti-witch feelings are on the rise and rumors of old women being burned are in the air, unfortunately for Tiffany Aching she’s finding the Chalk getting infected and it could be her fault. I Shall Wear Midnight is the 38th book of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and the fourth to feature the young witch Tiffany Aching, who is finding out that being a witch-in-training and being on her own are two different things entirely especially when the Cunning Man is after her.

Now 16 years old, Tiffany is now the witch of the Chalk doing everything that needs to be done from tending the Baron to looking after newest of babes. Then things seem to start to go wrong from a father assaulting his daughter to the old Baron dying in front of Tiffany and the nurse accusing her of killing him. Events transpire that Tiffany attempts to persevere through but she senses something is up, especially on her way to Ankh-Morpork when she meets a “man” that the Feegles fall through. Thanks to the Feegles, Tiffany spends a night in jail but learns witches all around are feeling pressure. Upon her return to the Chalk, Roland attempts to take out the Feegle’s mound and later has Tiffany detained but the young witch realizes that Roland’s fiancé is hiding a secret—she’s using magic—and confronts her getting the spell broken. As things return to normal in the Chalk, Tiffany must gear up to face the Cunning Man, a ghost of a witch hunter who’s hatred is infectious, even while attending a funeral and preparing for the new Baron’s wedding as senior witches gather and watch.

Building upon the previous three books to feature Tiffany, Pratchett continued the character’s growth by showing her face the everyday humdrum of the profession as the witch not a trainee, especially when something vicious shows up. Unlike previous books, the Feegles are more important minor characters than major secondary ones which focuses the book on Tiffany alone with her dealing with everything and everyone. Tiffany’s interactions with Carrot and Angua in Ankh-Morpork and the reappearance of Eskarina Smith, whose time traveling ability comes in handy in “assisting” Tiffany, just added to the quality of the book and connected various subseries together than just the same world.

I Shall Wear Midnight is a delightful return to the Disc and a somewhat return to form for Pratchett with a solid story that does not meander like some of the previous books of the series. Although a first time reader might want to get one of the earlier Aching books to understand some of what’s going on, any long-time fan will love this book.

Discworld

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Wintersmith (Discworld #34, Tiffany Aching #3)

WintersmithWintersmith by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The turn of the seasons seems like a dance orchestrated by nature to be both seamless and purposeful, but what if someone cuts in when she isn’t supposed to? Wintersmith is the 35th book of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and the third in the subseries featuring witch-in-training Tiffany Aching. Unfortunately for Tiffany she finds out that when you succumb to the rhythm of the music, you find yourself in a Story and have to see it through.

Tiffany has been training with 113-year old Miss Treason, who uses subtle “special effects” to impress people, when she is taken to witness the dark morris one night. The dance that welcomes the winter draws on Tiffany and she joins in, unfortunately she comes face to face with the Wintersmith—winter himself—and he falls in love with her believing she is the Summer Lady. The problem is as time progresses, Tiffany starts exhibiting traits of the Summer Lady while the Wintersmith believes to successfully woo her, he must become human. Unfortunately Miss Treason isn’t able to help Tiffany through things as she passes away and Tiffany goes to train with Nanny Ogg as well has help Annagramma figure out how to be an actual witch in taking over for Miss Treason. In the end, Tiffany realizes she has finish things with the Wintersmith with a kiss to finish the dance.

Throughout last several books in the Discworld series, Pratchett has delved into various themes that touch upon real world issues except in the Aching books. Like the previous two books of Tiffany’s subseries, Wintersmith focuses on characters, world-building, and plotting. Although a tad older Tiffany’s continued development is seen throughout, Pratchett spends time growing the character of Annagramma while also enhancing the reputation of Granny Weatherwax. Even though this is the 34th book in the series, Pratchett is still able to world-build the Disc with elemental forces and psychological dispositions of people in various parts which are different and also the same. And finally the plotting which was well executed writing that began with a bang then suddenly took you to the quiet beginning of the story and progressing steady as you waited to find out how Tiffany was going to “end the story”.

The Tiffany Aching subseries is Pratchett giving young adults an introduction to the Disc with is interwoven strains of fantasy and humor. Wintersmith is a fun, easy read that gives even adults a fresh look at their favorite series.

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Discworld

A Hat Full of Sky (Discworld #32, Tiffany Aching #2)

Discworld32A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The young witch of the Chalk downlands goes begins her apprenticeship not knowing that she’s being stalked by a long-lived lifeform that likes taking over “hosts”. A Hat Full of Sky is the 32nd book of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and the second following Tiffany Aching and her friends the Wee Free Men.

A year and a half after Tiffany Aching took on the Fairie Queen with only an iron skillet; she’s finally going to learn proper witchcraft as an apprentice to Mistress Level, who apparently has two bodies. However that is the only thing extraordinary about Tiffany’s experience with Miss Level because instead of magic, she’s just doing chores and learning practical knowledge. Yet unknowingly Tiffany is doing magic as she has immense power in “borrowing” just like Granny Weatherwax, but unlike the area’s most renowned witch Tiffany doesn’t know how to defend herself from those wanting to borrow her. While Tiffany doesn’t realize the danger she’s in, the Chalk Clan of the Nac Mac Feegles keep an eye on their “wee big hag” and know what’s stalking her and go racing to the rescue with hilarious results. But in the end it’ll have to be Tiffany who gets her body back from this immortal foe.

The second book of featuring Tiffany and Feegles goes right into the story quickly while also giving information about both early on without taking away from the narrative or unnecessary exposition. One doesn’t need to have read The Wee Free Men to learn information about the Feegle’s culture as Pratchett also included a nice little “article” about them before the story begins, mainly to allay fears from parents that the Feegles are cussing in a children’s book. Frankly the only negative from the point of view of an adult is that one could see the major plot points coming, it was just how Pratchett would make them entertaining—which he certainly did.

While A Hat Full of Sky is a young adult book, Terry Pratchett’s satirical and narrative writing makes it a great addition to the overall Discworld series. Both new readers and longtime fans will have a good time reading Tiffany learning about being a witch.

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The Wee Free Men (Discworld #30, Tiffany Aching #1)

0060012382-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Chalk is a place of sheep and shepherds but never a witch was known to be there, however that might have been incorrect. Terry Pratchett’s 30th Discworld novel, The Wee Free Men, is the second time he’s written for young adults but his writing and humor are top notch as well follow a nine-year witch Tiffany Aching going up against the Queen of Elves with only a horde of six-inch blue little men.

Tiffany Aching finds her family farm being invaded by monsters from dreams as well as a horde of little blue men, the titular Wee Free Men. Tiffany is very smart for her age and sees things as they are just like her grandmother, so when strange things pop up she uses an iron pan to beat them back. Although she later figures out that her grandmother was a witch, Tiffany has her first encounter with one in the form of Ms. Lick who tells her to be careful but not to tackle the problem on her own but when her brother is kidnapped by the Fairie Queen, Tiffany knows she’s going to need help while not sounding desperate. Tiffany’s help comes to her when the local clan of the Wee Free Men shows up looking for the new “hag ol’ the hills” because of the invasion of the Queen. Tiffany and the Wee Free Men invade ‘Fairyland’ and manage to return with her brother, a feat that Granny Weatherwax finds impressive for someone so young and untrained.

The Wee Free Men features Tiffany as the only point-of-view character, save from a narrator, which keeps the book fairly orderly when reading as well as being in line for a book for younger readers. The story itself is somewhat familiar for long time Discworld fans with the antagonist being the Queen of the Elves invading, but Pratchett changes things up with the use of dreams and the conflict as seen from a nine-year old. The cameo appearance of Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg at the end, sets up further adventures of Tiffany and connects her subseries with the Witches subseries with the hopes of seeing favorite characters in future books.

The second young adult and first Tiffany subseries book of the Discworld canon is a fantastic book; The Wee Free Men gives someone new for long time fans while introducing older characters for younger new readers. While it’s intended for a younger audience, older fans will appreciate Pratchett’s humorous fantasy writing with his twists and turns.

Discworld

Prairie Boy: An Artist Tells of His Growing-Up Days on the Canadian Prairies

Prairie Boy: An Artist Tells of His Growing-Up Days on the Canadian PrairiesPrairie Boy: An Artist Tells of His Growing-Up Days on the Canadian Prairies by Harry Baerg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The life on the Canadian prairie a hundred years ago was one of adventure and hard work for a boy growing up, even without school to worry about. In Prairie Boy by artist -author Harry Baerg writes about events over 9 years of his life on and around his family farm in central Saskatchewan in an engaging autobiography geared towards young adults.

Beginning with purchase of his family’s farm outside the town of Waldheim in 1917 when he was 8, Baerg writes about many features of life over the next 9 years until his family left for British Columbia. As an avid nature writer, Baerg’s descriptions of the wildlife around his farm and his family’s farm animals are very well done as well as chores surrounding the latter. His descriptive illustrations, in both words and images, of various activities brought to life how farmers a century ago dealt with daily life without the technological developments that would occur over the course of the rest of the century. Baerg spends time on both his schooling and how modern inventions slowly started coming into town and into their family’s life, making one realize that even the faintest resemblance to our world today was barely visible a century ago.

Coming in under 130 pages, Prairie Boy is a very quick read but very informative and entertaining. Although intended for a young adult audience, Harry Baerg’s autobiography of his time growing up is something adults looking for an relaxing read would find interesting.

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The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (Discworld #28)

0060012358-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The piped piper comes to a town in Uberwald, but finds that he’s late to the show that features cats, rats, and stupid-looking kids talking to one another. The twenty-eighth and first young adult entry of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents finds the residents—new and old, human and nonhuman—town of Bad Blintz figuring out the fine line between real life and a story. The aim to bring the same Pratchett humor that adults love to a younger audience is on target.

A mixed troupe of “rat piper” con-artists arrive just outside the town of Bad Blintz lead by a streetwise tomcat, who a clan of talking rats and a stupid-looking kid named Keith on the streets of Ankh-Morpork. But everyone is getting fed up with just going around and doing the same old thing, the rats want to find a home to build their society and the kid would like to play more music. Maurice is just interest in money and hiding the guilty for how he gained the ability to speak, but he found more than he’s bargaining for in Bad Blintz because something weird is going on even his talkative rat associate find disturbing. Soon the troupe find out that they have stumbled into a long running conspiratorial plan hatched from a surprising source.

As always, Pratchett connects his humor around a well-known fairy tale or story then completely turns it on its head when the same circumstances happen on Discworld even as the characters fight their own preconceptions when comparing “stories” to “real life”. The fact that he ably brought his unique style to a young adult market without losing any of the punch from the jokes makes this a very good book. Although some of the sections of the book were somewhat familiar to a long-time Pratchett reader does take a little away from the book, it doesn’t necessarily ruin the book for first time readers.

Terry Pratchett’s first Discworld foray into the young adult genre is classic Pratchett through targeted at a younger audience. I found it as funny as the rest of his series, but some of the plot points were simpler than his usual work for obvious reasons. However this minor fact doesn’t ruin a very good book.

Discworld

A Bold One for God

A Bold One For GodA Bold One For God by Charles G. Edwards

My rating: 1.5 of 5 stars

Although he did not begin the Reformation in Scotland, John Knox has become its most identifiable proponent not only in the almost 450 years since his death but also during the last 25 years of his life. In A Bold One for God, Charles G. Edwards writes a brief 160 page biography of “a not-so-well-known reformer” that served not only God but his nation as well.

Edwards’ biography of Knox begins in his early 30s after his conversion to Protestantism and his interactions with martyr George Wishart and how the influential preacher told him to remain a tutor to his pupils until God needed him. In the reaction after Wishart’s execution, Knox was asked to preach by Wishart’s followers to lead their congregation after they had assassinated the Cardinal of St. Andrews. His accepts and his powerful preaching began his rise as a man of note in the Reformation movement in Scotland while also resulting in his imprisonment after the movement is crushed for a time. Over the course of the next 12 years, Knox serves as a galley slave before living in exile in England then Geneva and Frankfurt then back to Geneva with a brief visit to Scotland in-between. In 1559, Knox returned to Scotland permanently and became a not only the leading Protestant preacher in the nation but also one with significant political power as he contended with the queen regent Mary of Guise then her daughter Mary, Queen of Scots, and then under the regents of the young James VI.

In the synopsis above, I have hardly scratched the surface of John Knox’s life and career. Unfortunately Charles Edwards did the same in this short biography as well. Although his intended audience is easy identifiable for young adults through his writing style and larger font, Edwards doesn’t treat his audience with respect by crediting them with any intelligence and made his subject less than what he was. Through reconstructed conversations and paraphrasing of others, Edwards endeavored to give Knox’s life more depth but only made the man appear simple and artificial to the reader which seemed to indicate a condescending attitude towards his readers.

While Edwards does give an accurate picture of the chronology and historical background of John Knox’s life that does not make up for the lack of depth and unintended sterilization of his subject. The lack of discussion of Knox’s first 30 years of life and the, most likely unintentional, patronizing attitude towards his readers severely undercuts the worth of A Bold One for God.

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