Book Review: The Tiffany Aching Adventures

The Wee Free Men
A Hat Full of Sky

by Terry Pratchett

Tiffany Aching is a witch. No, she doesn’t carry a magic wand or cast showy spells or go to a fancy school of magic. But she does use her eyes to see what’s really there, and her brain to think critically, and she has a well-developed sense of responsibility. In Terry Pratchett’s universe, these are the essential qualities that make a witch.

In The Wee Free Men, witch-finder Perspicacia Tick discovers 9-year-old Tiffany just as two worlds are colliding: the boundaries with fairyland are breaking down and the Queen of the Fairies is sending in her nasties. Miss Tick goes to get help from some more powerful witches, but Tiffany can’t wait. The Queen of the Fairies has stolen her brother Wentworth, and Tiffany sets off to rescue her brother armed only with a frying pan. But Tiffany isn’t alone. She’s accompanied by a group of tiny blue men called the Nac Mac Feegle, a rowdy, hardheaded (in more ways that one), aggressive, but loyal group of fairies who run around fighting, stealing, and drinking (and any combinations of the above) and yelling, “Crivens!” But even with the help of the Feegles, Tiffany will need to learn to use her First Sight and her Second Thoughts to navigate the maze of dreams that protects Fairyland.

In A Hat Full of Sky, Tiffany is now 11-years-old, and she goes to live with an experienced witch, Miss Level, to learn the ways of witchcraft. But witchcraft turns out to be less interesting than Tiffany expected: it seems to mostly consist of taking care of the old and the sick. But when Tiffany attracts the attention of a hiver, an entity which seeks to possess her, she comes face to face with her darkest thoughts. To defeat the hiver, she must learn what is important and find the soul and center of witchcraft.

In Wintersmith, Tiffany is now 13, and living with and learning from Miss Treason, a very scary witch who terrifies everyone. In spite of that, or maybe because of it, the locals trust Miss Treason and come to her with their problems. From Miss Treason, Tiffany learns the art of Boffo, of giving people what they need to see to believe in you.

When Tiffany disobeys Miss Treason and joins a dance at the changing of the seasons, she attracts the attention of the Wintersmith, the Winter elemental. The Wintersmith becomes infatuated with her, and sends snow that looks like Tiffany and Icebergs in her form. Unless Tiffany can find a way to deal with the Wintersmith, the world will be overwhelmed with a neverending and deadly winter.

I loved these books. They’re witty and clever and insightful. I love the way the witches are portrayed as down-to-Earth people who use their eyes and their brains more frequently than magic, and who do what needs to be done. I couldn’t help thinking of these books as the anti-Harry Potter; although I love the Harry Potter books too, the Tiffany Aching series just makes all that preoccupation with spells and magic wands and such seem so superficial. Indeed, superficiality and shallow-mindedness are lampooned more than once in this series.

Then there are the Feegles. Really, the Nac Mac Feegle are the best part of these books. When they aren’t there, I long for them to return, and when they are there, I can’t help laughing out loud. I wish I had a clan of Feegles watching over me! (Although, like Tiffany, I wouldn’t want them watching in the bedroom or the privy!)

Altogether this is a wonderful series that is well worth reading.

Wintersmith is a Cybils nominee. Although it is the third book in the trilogy, I read it first and it stood well alone.

Tags: book review | childrens books | young adult books | fantasy | fairies | witches