Thursday, October 15, 2009

Book review: The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

It’s a good thing that Terry Pratchett has written so darn many books, because I like his writing and intend to read a lot of them. The Wee Free Men is one of his YA novels, tangentially related to his more adult Discworld fantasy series. You don’t have to be familiar with Discworld, however, to enjoy TWFM: the story latches onto you from the get-go and never lets up.

Young heroine Tiffany Aching lives a quiet country life on the Aching family farm. She’s an odd girl, prone to too many thoughts and questions, but she’s hardworking and dutiful, and good at making cheese. She has a baby brother, Wentworth, who seems to be always sticky due to his always wanting to eat candies, and she’s not entirely sure she likes him that much – things on the farm were just fine without him. But because she’s a good girl, Tiffany watches Wentworth when her mother asks her too and only once or twice uses him as monster bait.

Strange things are coming down out of the hills: river monsters, headless horsemen and winter when it shouldn’t be winter. Tiffany, whose Granny Aching (excellent with sheep) was rumored to be a witch, and who rather thinks she might like to be a witch herself, consults with Miss Tick (also a witch) and learns that an invasion of these bad things is coming. And there’s no one to stop them, bemoans Miss Tick. There’s me, says Tiffany.

After having said that, however, the girl isn’t so sure since the witch wasn’t very forthcoming with the witchy education, only leaving a talking toad behind for advice. But when Wentworth suddenly goes missing, Tiffany takes up her weapons (a cast iron frying pan and her Granny’s book, Diseases of the Sheep) and enlists the help of the Nac Mac Feegle, also known as the Wee Free Men, tiny blue Scottish-ish pictsies (not pixies). The only thing the pictsies like to do better than drink is fight and, luckily for Tiffany, they’re really good at doing both.

Pratchett has an incredible ear for accents – and his Nac Mac Feegle are thick with a twisted brogue – and excellent timing to his sentences. His descriptions are marvelous and this is one of the most easily visualized books I’ve read in a long time. The plot hits the ground running and keeps picking up pace, throwing in wonderful characters, tweaked fairy tales, funny jokes and social commentary without missing a stride.

This is only the second Pratchett book I’ve read (the first was Guards! Guards!) and I’ve got to say that I’m totally hooked. I’m planning on delving into the stacks of the SLC City Library (ooh - what a library!) soon and hope that they have a decent stash of Discworld books for me. In the meantime, HUGE thanks to friend of the blog Kevin C. for introducing me to Pratchett’s worlds – and giving me these books.

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