Friday 11 December 2009

"The Wee Free Men" and "A Hat Full of Sky" by Terry Pratchett

Picking up The Wee Free Men defied all the rules I had made up about my reading arrangements. But since I was still recovering from a reading slump, I felt - no, I required to be completely free to choose whatever I wanted to read, no matter whether I owned the book or not already.
I'm still in this kind of mood, and since it feels so good and liberating I might even adopt it in the long term. I don't care how many books I have at home!! If I feel like reading something else, I will. This doesn't mean I will buy books like there's no tomorrow, because contrary to logic, this will automatically discourage me from reading the newly bought books. It's as if as soon as they are mine, they are not appealing anymore. Go figure. So here comes the library. Or the "read it now, buy it later" attitude that I've started to adopt in the shop (but this only applies if you're working in a bookshop like me!).

But back to the books...They were awesome! I loved them just as much as I expected I would. And they had a certain soothing effect, which meant that whatever crappy mood I was in, they calmed me and cheered me up a bit. Totally recommended for when you're in need of some comfort reading. Guaranteed to do the business.

The Wee Free Men is a novel set in the Discworld universe, but you don't need to have read any other book in the series to enjoy this one. In fact, this was my first ever Discworld novel!
The main character is Tiffany Aching, a 9 year-old wannabe witch, living in the Chalk country. One day her toddler brother gets stolen by the Fairy Queen and Tiffany needs to go to her world to save him. But she's not alone in her quest. The Nac Mac Feegles, aka the Wee Free Men have made her their new Kelda, and that means that they would follow her to hell if necessary!
Even though the basics for this story aren't new - a fairy queen who steals babies, the hero who faces one test after the other so that she can continue her quest, the wee free men that reminded me of the little people in Truckers - the story felt fresh and original, thanks to its wonderful characters.
Tiffany first of all. She's only 9 but she kicks ass! She's smart, inquisitive, brave. She has Third Thought and First Sight, which according to Miss Tick are essential to be a good witch. She fights monsters with a frying a pan, and gets angry at them for taking what is rightfully hers! You gotta love her for that. She's also a creature of the Chalk, just like Granny Aching. The hills are in her bones. The smell of sheep, jolly sailor tobacco and turpentine is what she grew up with. That, and the cheese, which she makes better than anyone at the farm.
I love Tiffany unconditionally, even though sometimes you wonder how such a small child could be so smart. It makes me feel ashamed of my younger self!
But who I love most, who made me giggle all the time, and who I wanted to meet again at the end of the book, were definitely the wee free men. All of them! I can't pick a favourite. I loooooooooooove them. Seriously. They rock. How can you not love a bunch of little blue men, with a Scottish accent, a disruptive temper, an allergy to every authorities, but with a soft spot for the "wee hag"? I can't get enough of them.

I said the basics for this story are not new, but the way they are developed definitely is. Especially the scenes in Fairyland which were wildly imaginative. And the way the quest is resolved is beautiful and deep. Something I wouldn't have expected in a children's books, although I should have known better, being an advocate for the relevance of children's books in literature.
So it shouldn't be a surprise that I ran to get the second book straight after finishing this one, which is:

A Hat Full of Sky.
"Wise, witty and wonderful", reads the blurb on the back of my copy. And I couldn't choose a better way to describe it myself.
I wanted more wee free men, and I got them. I wanted more of Tiffany's wisdom, and I did. But what I loved about this second story is that it showed the weak side of Tiffany, too. The one that's growing up, and trying to fit in the witches' world. The one that makes mistakes.
Tiffany is sent away from her hills, to learn the art of witchcraft, at Miss Level's house. There's something odd about Miss Level, but I won't say what it is or else I'll spoil the revelation it for you. She doesn't do tricks or hard spells, instead she chooses to help the people in the village who needs to be looked after. A healing potion here, a stitch on an injury there...No spells or potions. Tiffany is skeptical at first and feels she's not learning enough. Then a meeting with fellow apprentice witches makes her feel uncomfortable about herself for the first time, and fuels her annoyance for Mr Level's humble ways of practicing the art.
Meanwhile, an ancient and terrifying creature, a Hiver, starts stalking Tiffany, waiting for its moment to take advantage of her inexperience...

There's so many things I liked about this second book. It's funny and wise, just like The Wee Free Men. But also it added more depth to Tiffany's character, which I liked.
The ending was beautiful and touching, and completely fitting to the philosophy of the book.
I'd recommend it to anyone.
I'm sure I'm going to go back to these books soon, and I won't let too much time pass between them and the third in the series, Wintersmith. It's already on my shelf!


Amanda said...

One day I really need to get to Wee Free Men.

Paperback Reader said...

Hi, I found your blog through Nymeth and gnoe.

I adore the wee free men and think that Tiffany Aching is one of the strongest female role models for younger readers. I am so excited that there is a new Tiffany Aching book scheduled for release next year (I Shall Weear Midnight).

I maintain that Terry Pratchett is the best cure for a reading slump and his books are where I always turn when in that situation.

Jill said...

Oh, Valentina - if these books don't get you out of a reading slump, I don't know what will! They are among my very, very, very favorites. I'm glad you love them too!

valentina said...

Amanda, I hope that day comes soon:)

Claire, I heard about it but I didn't know it was scheduled for next year! that's brilliant. Perfect timing on my part to read them now, then:P

Darla, it's so true. I wasn't sure they would do it for me, cause I was in such an anxious state, but boy, they work. From now on, I'm gonna recommend the reading to any depressed person I know!
A bit of Pratchett every day keeps the sadness away.

Ana S. said...

yay, I knew you'd love these :D And like Claire, I am ridiculously excited for I Shall Wear Midnight! Especially because there are rumours that he'll bring back Esk from Equal Rites (not sure if you've read that yet, but it's awesome :P)

valentina said...

Nymeth, I haven't got to the grown up Discworld books yet! there's so many of them...
reading Wintersmith now!