Saturday, July 03, 2004

Book review: The Wee Free Men, Terry Pratchett

For the sake of full disclosure, I'm a big Pratchett fan. I breathlessly wait for every new novel and run out and buy it as soon as it comes out. (In paperback, that is. I'm not made of money here.) So it's convenient that in his recent forays into the children's market (like Amazing Maurice), if there was ever a hardback version I didn't see it, and got to buy the paperback version as soon as I knew about it.

But even so, I was hesitant to read Maurice. A good author for grownups does not necessarily make a good author for kids, and I was very ready to be disappointed with what made the Discworld interesting for kids. But I wasn't. When you read Pratchett, you can always expect to see the conventional wisdom turned on its head. The witches are heroes, the handsome prince is a bad guy. If you stay true to yourself and follow your dreams, you'll get your rear kicked by the guy down the street who works for a living. And I was very glad to see this pattern continuing in Wee Free Men.

As a matter of fact, it's hard to say what really makes this a kid's book. "Teen fiction" is where you'll find it categorized, but the only difference, really, between this and any other Discworld book is maybe just a slight lack of depth in the characters. Even then, it's just as likely that they will show up in other books to become more rounded out. The Nac Mac Feegle have already appeared in Nanny Ogg's kitchen, for example, and I read one review claiming that the aerial Night Watch officer in that book was one as well, although I missed that when I read it. I'll check more carefully on my next read.

And it has to be said, Tiffany Aching, the nine-year-old pre-witch, is a compelling character. It'll be clear to readers familiar with the series that she has all the right attributes to be a talented witch, unlike, for example, Magrat Garlick, or Tiffany's would-be mentor, Miss Tick. Tiffany not only has the smarts, but also the sense to know when it's better to whomp a monster on the head with a frying pan rather than close her eyes and magic it away. I wonder if we'll get to watch her growing through her teen years to adulthood, like Death's granddaughter Susan. We can hope.

All in all, I just have to think of this book as A Discworld Book, and that is how I will categorize future Pratchett "teen fiction" offerings; to be bought as soon as they are available.

And speaking of that, Mr. Pratchett: I'm done with this one. May I have another?