A Hat Full Of Sky - Terry Pratchett

Reviewed for Usenet (or see Google archive).

A Hat Full Of Sky
Terry Pratchett
ISBN: 0385607369 (Amazon link)

This is a loose sequel to The Wee Free Men, and is another Young Adult entry in the long-running and ridiculously successful Discworld series. I can tell these are Young Adult books as there's proper bad language [1], and there's a lot of talk about death (less Death though). As I noted in my comments about The Wee Free Men from last summer, I think it'd be a pity for any Pratchett fan to pass up these titles just because they're marketed as being for kids [2]. Better still, these should work as gentle introductions to Discworld for those intrigued by the shelves of Pratchett titles, but who can't get past the decidedly sub-par start in The Colour of Magic.

Tiffany Aching is now eleven, and it's been a couple of years since she had her showdown with the Fairy Queen, armed only with a frying pan. She's no longer a kelda of the Nac Mac Feegle (six inch tall, psychoticly violent, woad tattooed, whisky loving 'fairies'), but back in her parent's dairy making cheeses. Unknown to her family, she's still watched over by her old clan, but discreetly. As far as most people know, she's a normal girl. Okay, she's Granny Aching's grand-daughter, so she's probably got the makings of a witch, but she seems like just a normal girl. And as a normal girl should, she's entering into service. Miss Tick - itinerant witch masquerading as an itinerant teacher - has arranged for her to enter the service of an elderly lady in need of a maid, cheese making skills a bonus.

Of course, it's not quite that simple. The elderly lady is in fact two elderly ladies, Mrs Level. Singular. One mind, two bodies, good on a broomstick, and shares a house with a spirit keen on tidiness. Might in fact be a witch for Tiffany to continue learning from... Where things get interesting is that Tiffany has a knack for Borrowing, but only as a minor trick useful for when you don't have a mirror. Unfortunately for her, there's a Hiver in the area, a vicious and unstoppable spirit keen on possession, particularly if there's no-one actually home when it spots a potential host. Luckily for Tiffany, her sort-of-ex-husband, Big Man Rob Anybody of the Nac Mac Feegles, is more alert to the danger posed to his "big wee hag" than the other witches. Mayhem ensues.

Not much point telling you more really is there? This is formulaic Pratchett, but that's a very good thing, and I mean it nicely. The plot is basically a coming of age tale. Tiffany is an instance of one of Pratchett's best archetypal hero/heroines - the level headed, practical naif from a small town. Granny Weatherwax, and to a lesser extent, Granny Aching, are perhaps my favourite Campbellian Mentors by any author. The Nac Mac Feegle would be appallingly annoying comic relief in the hands of a lesser author, but the way Pratchett writes them, they're simply hilarious. Admittedly, the Hiver feels a little like Monster-of-the-Week, standing in for the Fairy Queen, but the possession story is a nice segue into a typical gentle discussion of what it means to grow up, to take responsibility, and what matters in a person. Again, if someone other than Pratchett was the author, the polemic might intrude into the story, but as it stands my only complaint about this book is that I was able to read it in a single sitting. Yes, Pratchett has a formula, and Discworld is a cosy little franchise, but I'll happily read several dozen more of his books set there before I even start to think that he should perhaps try something else.

Hugely entertaining. Worth reading for Rob Anyone's philosophical moments alone:

"I am no' deid! I'm trying to have a moment o' existential dreed here, right? Crivens, it's a puir lookout if a man cannae feel the chilly winds o' Fate lashing about his nethers wi'out folks telling him he's deid, eh?"

[1] Okay, so "Auchtahelweit!" is hardly going to contribute to the moral decay of a generation, but it's as much Language as in any of the Old Adult Discworld novels.
[2] I was surprised to see that I was fairly lukewarm in my praise for The Wee Free Men last year, as I remember it fondly.

Posted: Sun - May 2, 2004 at 11:45 PM