Friday, February 26, 2016

Series Review: The Tiffany Aching series

The Tiffany Aching Adventures
Publisher: HarperCollins
Source: library
Genre: Fantasy

Everyone knows you can’t grow a good witch on chalk.  Witches need rocky ground.  Too bad nine year-old Tiffany Aching doesn’t know that.  The young girl’s talent has attracted the attention, protection, and well-meaning interference of the Nac Mac Feegle.  When senior witches pass through and recognize her natural gifts, Tiffany is thrust into the world of magic.  Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching adventures follow the young witch from age nine to age nineteen. 

If you push me to choose just one, I will tell you that Terry Pratchett is my favorite author.  And everything he is known for from quirky, memorable characters to amusingly diverse and strange storylines to humorous philosophical points is well represented in his Tiffany Aching novels. 

Some of the best characters in all of fantasy are the Nac Mac Feegle.  If you can imagine dozens of tiny, blue, thieving, whiskey-drinking, kilt-wearing, Scottish warriors with more bravery than brains, you’ve got a good idea of who these “wee free men” are.  Their fearless leader, Rob Anybody, is a delightful little scoundrel.  Granny Weatherwax, who appears in others of Pratchett’s Discworld novels, is the most prominent witch in the land, though not at all grandmotherly.  Tiffany herself, despite being brave and somewhat of an old soul, is a child.  She makes the assumptions and mistakes common to her age, and I’ve enjoying seeing the ways she gets into, and out of, trouble.

I enjoyed these stories on the surface level, but reading as a grown up, I was stunned by the depth of the underlying themes.  For example, in The Wee Free Men (the first Tiffany Aching adventure), Tiffany along with the Nac Mac Feegle invade Fairyland to rescue her brother and the local baron’s son.  A wonderful story by itself, but symbolically also about outgrowing nursery tales and fairy stories.  In the second installment, A Hat Full of Sky, Tiffany is apprenticed to Miss Level and is targeted by an ancient predatory spirit called the Hiver – a fantastic adventure story, but also deeper than you might expect.  Knowing that the Hiver collects bits of the personalities of the people whose minds it devours, the story is also about what it means to be an adolescent.  The conflicting emotions and fear and angst of that time of life are evident and the solution to Tiffany’s problem just might be a solution for real life.  Wintersmith follows Tiffany as she jumps into a seasonal dance and, usurping the place of the Summer Lady (a goddess-like personification of summer), accidentally attracts the romantic interest of the Wintersmith (the personification of winter).  Again, the story is wonderful, but the underlying subject is about jumping into things before you really understand a situation.  I can’t speak for others, but I certainly did a lot of that as an early teen.

I just finished the fourth book of this five book series which is what is inspiring this multi-novel review.  In I Shall Wear Midnight, Tiffany is now fifteen and a full witch with her own steading on the Chalk where she grew up.  Witches have always been a subject of suspicion on the Chalk, but things are growing worse.  Things come to a head when the old baron dies and Tiffany is accused of murder.  Proving her innocence would have been an interesting enough read, but Pratchett really outdid himself tackling the underlying issue of mob mentality and how “poison goes where poison’s welcome.”

Terry Pratchett was a canny observer of human nature.  He is hilarious in his observations and satires of how people interact, though always in a way that showed his gentle love for flawed-but-still-trying humans.  I have loved everything about this YA series so far, and I’m anxious to read the fifth and final Tiffany Aching novel.  I don’t rate things five birdies often or lightly, but each book in this series is an absolute gem.  If you’re new to Pratchett, the Tiffany Aching series is an easy and exemplary place to start.  If you’re already familiar with Pratchett’s adult Discworld novels, what are you waiting for???

Note:  I read the first novel in the series and listened to the audio version of the others.  The stories hold up in either format, but Stephen Briggs’s narration is a wonder of characterization.  I got lots of stares when I burst out laughing in the middle of the grocery store.

"Another world is colliding with this one," said the toad. "All the monsters are coming back."

"Why?" said Tiffany.

"There's no one to stop them."

There was silence for a moment.

Then Tiffany said, "There's me."

Armed only with a frying pan and her common sense, Tiffany Aching, a young witch-to-be, is all that stands between the monsters of Fairyland and the warm, green Chalk country that is her home. Forced into Fairyland to seek her kidnapped brother, Tiffany allies herself with the Chalk's local Nac Mac Feegle - aka the Wee Free Men - a clan of sheep-stealing, sword-wielding, six-inch-high blue men who are as fierce as they are funny. Together they battle through an eerie and ever-shifting landscape, fighting brutal flying fairies, dream-spinning dromes, and grimhounds - black dogs with eyes of fire and teeth of razors - before ultimately confronting the Queen of the Elves, absolute ruler of a world in which reality intertwines with nightmare. And in the final showdown, Tiffany must face her cruel power alone...

In a riveting narrative that is equal parts suspense and humor, Carnegie Medalist Terry Pratchett returns to his internationally popular Discworld with a breathtaking tale certain to leave fans, new and old, enthralled.

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