2003; 401 pages. New Author? : No. Book #30 (out of 41) in the Discworld series; Book #1 (out of 5) in the Tiffany Aching series. Genre : Fantasy; Humor. Overall Rating : 8*/10.
Tiffany Aching is only nine years old, and she’s already decided what she wants to be in life: a witch. This is not surprising – her grandmother, Granny Aching, was a witch. Even though Granny denied it and said she just had a special way with healing animals, especially sheep.
This was prudent on Granny’s part, because here in the Chalk, even being suspected of being a witch can be a life-threatening situation. Just ask poor Mrs. Snapperly, who was accused of stealing the Baron’s son via magical means.
Even a child like Tiffany could see the evidence was circumstantial, but it cost Mrs. Snapperly her life.
What’s To Like...
The Wee Free Men is the first book in Terry Pratchett’s YA sub-series, centering on Tiffany Aching. They are still set in Discworld, and I’ve read two of the five books in the series (reviewed here and here), and found them enjoyable. But It is nice to read the first book, and find out the the origins of both Tiffany, and the titular Wee Free Men, otherwise known as the Nac Mac Feegles.
Tiffany’s an ideal role model for young adults – she’s not afraid to question things, and doesn’t blindly accept stories and beliefs put forth by adults. Most of the characters will be new to the Discworld reader, but Granny Weatherwax and Mrs. Ogg make a cameo appearance, and you’ll be delighted to meet Sneebs as well.
There’s a ton of new critters to encounter, among them dromes, a talking toad, grimhounds, the bumblebee women, Jenny Green-Teeth, and the scariest beasts of all – lawyers. There’s a bit of synesthesia, which I always like, and if you liked the “Dream Within A Dream” concept in the movie Inception, you’re going to enjoy this storyline. The book has chapters, which is unusual for a Discworld novel, and a number of the always-popular Pratchettian footnotes.
The ending is good – it has a couple of plot twists, and good lessons for both YA’s and adults to ponder. Keep in mind the target audience is YA, not Juveniles. There’s no sex or drugs (or even romance), but the Nac Mac Feegles consume copious amounts of alcohol, tobacco juice is mentioned, and some characters – both the good and the bad - get killed.
The Wee Free Men sells for $4.99 at Amazon. The rest of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books run in the range of $4.99-$11.99 for the Kindle version.
“My name,” she said at last, “is Miss Tick. And I am a witch. It’s a good name for a witch, of course.”
“You mean blood-sucking parasite?” said Tiffany, wrinkling her forehead.
“I’m sorry?” said Miss Tick, coolly.
“Ticks,” said Tiffany. “Sheep get them. But if you use turpentine -“
“I meant it sounds like ‘mystic,’” said Miss Tick. (loc. 501)
Tiffany turned him around to face the things. “What are these?” she said.
“Oh, doak! Grimhounds! Bad! Eyes of fire and teeth of razor blades!”
“What should I do about them?”
“Not be here?” (loc. 1659)
“Never cross a woman with a star on a stick, young lady.” (loc. 1174)
The Wee Free Men contains a goodly amount of Pratchett wit and humor, although since it’s a YA novel, it may feel a bit watered down to an adult reader. But beyond all the shenanigans and humor, Pratchett examines several serious themes and issues, including:
Blind belief in stories and allegations without evidence.
Duty – both familial and career-wise.
Tolerance of others who believe differently.
What to do when someone gets the credit for something you did.
Finally, Pratchett presents the concept of witchcraft in a remarkable mash-up that is both literarily-pleasing yet historically-accurate. The principles of modern-day Wiccans, which are much akin to their ancient forerunners, the Druids, are blended smoothly with the classic “Hollywood" stereotypes – pointed black hats, familiars, and magic so simple even a wizard could learn to use it.
And flying around on broomsticks is incredibly kewl.
8 Stars. Add 1 star if you’ve already encountered the Nac Mac Feegle in one of the other Discworld books, and find them to be your favorite Pratchett characters.