The Wee Free Men
(A Discworld novel: The Tiffany Aching series, Book 1)
Fiction, YA Fantasy
DESCRIPTION: The quaint, backwater downs of the Chalk aren't the sort of place one would associate with high magic or witches or problems greater than the odd lost sheep, yet something peculiar seems to be happening there nonetheless. First, the girl Tiffany Aching sees a couple of strange little blue men fishing in the creek - then a great monster, like something from a fairy tale, tries to grab her little brother Wentworth. This is the kind of problem that probably calls for a wizard or a witch, or at least a clever king or queen. Unfortunately, there are no wizards in these parts, and not only is chalk too soft to grow a proper witch on, but the last old woman the people thought to be a witch met an unfortunate end by fearful locals. As for the king or queen, all they have is a Baron who hardly listens to grown-ups, let alone commoner girls. Armed with a head full of words from the dictionary (because nobody told her she wasn't supposed to read it), a trusty frying pan, a talking toad (who may have been a man once), a gaggle of piskies who fight first and think later (if at all), and memories of her late Granny Aching (who always seemed to know just what to do about whatever went wrong), Tiffany sets out to save her little corner of Discworld. If she can't do it, after all, who will?
REVIEW: This book begins the Tiffany Aching series in Pratchett's greater Discworld universe, starring a bold and clever girl starting out on the path to witchhood, even if nobody will (or can) show her the way. On the surface, there's plenty of humor and fun turns of phrase, with the usual tweaking of fantasy and fairy tale tropes... but Pratchett never stops at the surface. Dig down a level, and it's a fairly solid story about a middle-grade heroine facing down a dangerous, mind-twisting enemy with some unlikely, and not always helpful, companions. Another level down, and it's the story of a girl with "First Sight and Second Thoughts," who must learn to see the world as it really is and think deeply about not just the dangers she faces but everything else: her life, her memories of Granny Aching, and the responsibilities she's shouldering, voluntarily or otherwise. Go deeper still, and you see themes of reality and illusion, individual thoughtfulness versus group assumptions and prejudices, and more. There's almost always more going on in Pratchett's characters and stories, bits and pieces that stick with you after you read them and elevate what could be standard fair or just plain silliness to another, unique level, and Tiffany Aching's debut is no exception. I expect I'll follow this series through at least one more book.
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