There is no denying that Terry Pratchett (that’s Sir Terence to the Queen) is as prolific as writers come. I Shall Wear Midnight is his 39th book set in Discworld — and if you don’t know what that is then you’ve presumably been living in a bunker.
In this book, Pratchett continues the adventures of young witch Tiffany Aching as she tries to settle into her role of hag o’ the hills in the Chalk, a place that hasn’t necessarily decided it wants her around. While she does this, she is made aware that a strange force of evil has been released and is headed straight for her.
Tiffany is a character who has evolved. Having seen some ugly things in her life as a young witch, she has grown to be strong, sensible and clever, but not precocious – never precocious! She has used her experiences to help her in her role as the hag o’ the hills. With Tiffany now a teenager, Pratchett is open to the possibility of love for her — but that does not mean that there is sex in this story, because Terry Pratchett has never needed sex to sell his books. Humour and a biting wit always suffice. There is, however, death involved, which may surprise those who are looking for a sweet and safe little young adult novel. Says Pratchett, “I think that our job is to turn children into adults, not encourage children to remain children.”
Pratchett’s young adult novels often deal with more serious ideas than the main Discworld novels — in this fourth installment of Tiffany’s adventures the themes and motifs aren’t for the faint of heart. There is much darkness in I Shall Wear Midnight: horrific domestic violence, the death of an unborn child, vicious witch hunts, and a strange eye-less specter called the Cunning Man who is easily one of Pratchett’s more frightening villains.
The Cunning Man’s evil shadow lingers throughout the book, adding to the already dark elements that Pratchett has brought into Tiffany’s life. Eventually though, he is dealt with rather quickly, almost in a rushed manner. But this is nitpicking because it is not the plot that is the star here — although there is certainly nothing wrong with the plot! Pratchett’s characters steal the scene, with their little intrigues and complications, their dialogue and comedy that shine through everything else.
How does Pratchett manage to write so ridiculously well, continue to be so incredibly smart and funny and remain true to his own voice and style while managing to bring to life a multitude of characters? He is incredibly good at bringing to life different voices and manages the voice of a teenage girl so convincingly that there is never a moment of doubt in Tiffany’s narrative. Of course, she is no ordinary teenage girl — as nothing is ever ordinary in Pratchett’s fantastic worlds.
One must also admire Pratchett’s ability to juggle a multitude of characters who connect through many of his books. Here, Tiffany travels to the city of Ankh Morpork and meets a number of characters from other Discworld novels — character that younger readers who have only read Pratchett’s young adult work may not know of, but for those who are aware of the extent of Discworld, this all ties up organically.
I Shall Wear Midnight has it all — lots of great action and all the right thrills and chills. Magic, mystery and mayhem abound on every page and the finale is heart-warming and open to endless possibilities.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, January 30th, 2011.
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