Today, Reasons to Remain* has decided to review a book. When I first started up this blog, I had some odd sort of notion of doing book reviews all the time. However, the penny sort of slowly dropped that most of the sort of novels which I tend to read actually date from 1922, and have thus probably been reviewed quite a lot already. But on a rare occasion, I have a shiny new book which actually came from a bookshop and everything, and so I give you …the Reasons to Remain review of, somewhat predictably, Terry Pratchett’s I Shall Wear Midnight!
It’s a bit tricky to know who to review a new Terry Pratchett for. Do you write about how it reads to a longtime fan, or a newcomer to Pratchett? It definitely makes a difference. Ultimately, I guess, I can only read it as me, and so only write about it as me. Me meaning the sort of fan who’s read all 38 of his Discworld books (excluding spin offs such as The Science of Discworld), and countless interviews, articles and other works besides. As far as I can tell from a browse of the “by the same author” bit on the first pages, the only fiction of his I haven’t read is something called The Unadulterated Cat. I wonder what it’s like.
I Shall Wear Midnight, advertised “for younger readers”, but definitely at the “young adult” end of that spectrum, is the fourth of four novels featuring Tiffany Aching’s progression in a life of witchcraft. First time we met her, she was eight. Now, she is sixteen, and a fully fledged witch, in charge of providing medicine, midwifery and general wise-womaning to the Chalk, a sheep-raising area probably based on Pratchett’s own upbringing, which he floods with culture derived from our own customs and folklore.
Tiffany’s youth and need to learn about the ways of the world make this a coming-of-age novel. She is proud, and hasty, and desperate to be accepted by the older witches — Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, old Discworld favourites, have been among her teachers. For the long-time DW fan, Tiffany’s experiences give a nice insight into Granny herself — Tiffany has a lot of the young Weatherwax about her. (For the Disc fanatic, there’s also a jaw-dropping oh-no-he-didn’t reintroduction of an old character, and a frankly masterful hidden trail which you feel very clever for following, right up until Terry debunks the whole thing with a single italicised sentence which makes you feel very, very silly for having been duped).
For the “young adult,” he has also included themes of jealousy and romance; the former a delicately barbed undercurrent, the latter in all honesty a bit clunky. But that’s a slight criticism in a book which is written with knowing wit, intense sensitivity to conventions of society and language, and a remarkable ability to create characters who are both raucously amusing stereotypes and fully-rounded people. Tiffany’s faerie-folk helpers, the angry Scottish-flavoured Nac Mac Feegle, are a great example of this. For most of the novel they’re comic relief, like the bumbling henchmen in a cartoon, providing slapstick and general kilt-based clownery. But they’re also fiercely proud, noble creatures with families to protect and an unflinching sense of duty, and the one aspect feeds the other. Pratchett’s characters are funnier because they’re real, and realer because they’re funny. Tiffany’s perspective also allows him to throw new light on some old favourites; Nanny Ogg in particular benefits from being seen through the lens of Tiff’s admiration, rather than Granny’s habitual scorn.
My verdict overall? Well, it’s brilliant, of course. I don’t obsess over Pratchett just because he has a nice hat (he does), I obsess over him because he’s almost absurdly good…no…fantastic. And I Shall Wear Midnight bears this out. Like all his work, it’s funny, but it also carries that slower pace which wormed its way into the Discworld somewhere around The Truth, which picks out the enormous human dignity in his understanding of the world. In terms of the “young adult” market, this is a different league of writing altogether from the awkward fantasy patchwork of, say, J.K. Rowling. If I’m being honest, I haven’t actually read Twilight, so can’t swear that it’s better than that, too. But mark it down as very probable.
That said, for a newcomer, it’s not the first Pratchett you should read. For something taken from the “younger” end of his oeuvre, I’d suggest Nation, or Only You Can Save Mankind. And if you’re going to plunge into the Disc, well, why not just plunge straight in? Wyrd Sisters is a nice way-in to the witch characters, especially if you know Macbeth pretty well, but if you’re only going to read one Pratchett in your life, then a) I recommend Night Watch, and b) what are you, mental?
But if you’re already au fait with Terry and the Discworld, or if you simply have to have a book that’s labelled “young adult”, or is from 2010, or has a hare on the cover, or something, then I Shall Wear Midnight won’t leave you disappointed. Just don’t come complaining to me if you find yourself suddenly much, much poorer, but the proud owner of forty-something freshly purchased novels, a hat with “Wizzard” on it in sequins, and a sense of humour which is begging you for some time off to recuperate.
Not to mention, of course, a replica charred broomstick and witch’s cloak. Green or midnight is left entirely up to you.
Note to self: next time, review an author that doesn’t make me garble with incoherent praise. D. H. Lawrence should do the trick.
Anyway, there’ll be no R-to-R update here on Sunday, as I’m going to be away visiting Stradbroke Island. I guess I could post something up on Saturday and set WordPress to release it on Sunday, but I kind of feel like this blog reached the natural end of its initial period with last week’s “Small Letter Home” (by which I mean that the stock getting-used-to-Australia post has finally run out of legs), and a week off might do it the world of good. But next week there’ll be plenty of new excitement to burble about, in the form of first Stradbroke Island and then Metallllicaaaaa, and who knows? After that I might actually have some new ideas.
Probably not a good idea to hold your breath, though.
* Yes, I know it’s incredibly arrogant when blogs refer to themselves by title, especially ones with a single author. But it also makes that single author feel quite smug…and besides, it’s a blog about Terry Pratchett. I needed some excuse for a footnote.