Friday, January 15, 2016

Book Review 2015 #5 - Terry Pratchett's I Shall Wear Midnight

I Shall Wear Midnight (Discworld Book #38) by Terry Pratchett
Published by: Corgi
Publication Date: September 2nd, 2010
Format: Paperback, 419 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Need not want. That's the way of the witch. You are respected and well regarded, but not really liked. Who indeed would like the person who knows all your dirty little secrets and does what needs to be done? There is also a certain amount of fear underneath, because though a witch's job has little to do with magic, there's always the threat of it. Worn to the bone by the needs of the people of the Chalk, Tiffany doesn't have time for sleep, especially when the rough music starts. Mr. Petty has been singled out by the villagers, an abusive man; he has taken things too far this time with his daughter Amber. While Tiffany doesn't necessary support or condemn the villagers and their plan to oust Mr. Petty, she knows one thing, evil though he may be, Mr. Petty doesn't deserve to die. After dealing with Mr. Petty and having another sleepless night, Tiffany is called to the home of the Baron. Once everyone thought that one day she would be the mistress of the manner when Roland inherited. But being the two "different" people didn't mean they were the two "right" people for each other and Roland is deep in preparations for his wedding to Letitia while his father slips away. When Roland goes away to the great city of Ankh Morpork, his father, the Baron, finally dies peacefully.

The Baron's nurse, a vengeful and hateful woman, claims that Tiffany killed him for his wealth. Tiffany, being unable to deal with these absurd accusations leaves to find Roland and break the news to him. Telling Roland doesn't go as she had planned, instead she ends up in prison with her faithful Nac Mac Feegles. But there is one thing to say about prison, it's safe. There in Ankh Morpork she felt the rising fear and hatred she's been feeling for weeks. People are starting to believe the old stories of evil witches and gingerbread cottages, of the cacklers, of the theory that "thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." But there was a stench of rotting and hatred and a man in black only she could see. A man with holes where his eyes should be. Tiffany soon learns that this Cunning Man must be stopped. Her own life could be in danger as Roland himself turns against her. But she soon learns she has unexpected allies, who, even if they did inadvertently release the Cunning Man, are willing to help watch him burn. Because if he doesn't, everyone else will.

Tiffany has grown up. She has seen the best and the worst of mankind and she takes care of them all. Just because a person appears beyond redemption doesn't mean they aren't worth fighting for, that way leads cackling. She takes everyone's pain away and leaves no comfort for herself. This is a far darker and more disturbing tale of Discworld then has been seen in the annals of Tiffany Aching. But then, the Cunning man is one of the most terrifying villains seen yet. Sure Tiffany kissed the Winter away and walked in the lands of fairies and DEATH, but those creatures were more creatures of myth and fairy tale than a man who through his own hatred and his own dark past is able to corrupt and despoil those who come in contact with him, though he is long dead. Because, deep down, I Shall Wear Midnight shows that the true danger isn't magic, it is man. The Cunning man was once a man like all others. And when Tiffany struggles to quickly save Mr. Petty she is not only saving him from himself, but from his fellow townsfolk. The people that Tiffany grew up around, those she cares for and trusts, when the rough music starts the true danger is your fellow man, and that is a terrifying truth. Even your best friend or neighbor could spell your end.

Yet Tiffany learns more than the cruelty of fellow man as she grows up. She has more responsibility on her shoulders than ever before. No longer a naive young girl she lives in a world of sleepless nights. Nights spent caring for those who probably don't give her a second thought. The truth of the world is open to her and it shows her that the world is made up of assumptions based solely on appearances. Her and Roland were to marry because that's how it looked to outsiders. Witches are evil old ladies who live alone in the woods. And girls like Letitia with their typical fairy-tale-princess looks and pretty gowns are destined for a happily ever after. Whereas the truth is Tiffany and Roland never were fated to marry, they were too different. The poor old lady killed in the woods years ago was nothing but a poor old lady, not an ounce of witch about her; unlike Letitia who dreams of being a witch and nothing would please her more than a wart or two. Truth can never be found on the surface. Appearances are deceiving. The genius of Pratchett is that he takes concepts that are so ingrained in our culture that they have reached the point of being a cliche, but then he shows it to us in a new light, in the vulnerability of an old lady and her cat, and we realize the importance of this truth that led to it being a cliche.

And while showing us the worst humanity has to offer, Pratchett also shows us those moments of grace. We have been raised to fear DEATH. That when the time comes it is always too soon and too painful. What should be a sad moment, when Roland's father dies, instead we are given a death with dignity. The pain is taken away and a happy memory brought forward. His death wasn't just a release, it was beautiful. That is what Pratchett does time and time again. He takes what we expect and gives it back to us in another way, turned and twisted about to get at the heart of the matter. He takes the concept of the wicked witch, turns it on its head and makes us see that these women of fairy tale who are feared are the ones who have it right. You must care for them that can't. You don't burn down old ladies' houses and kill their cats, you don't run people out of town, you show kindness, even if it must be said in a stern tone of voice. I can not say enough how Pratchett's writing shows such a unique thought process, a great mind that was willing to question everything and in that quest gave us a new way to look at the world. Life happens not as you expect because maybe that's what is needed.

Re-reading this book was bittersweet in the wake of Pratchett's own death. While this book turned out not to be the final Tiffany Aching book, Tiffany did end Discworld with The Shepherd's Crown. But to me, this should be the end of Tiffany's story. She might have other adventures, but here... here she is glorious. This story is so perfect that there was no way to capture that sense of completion by writing yet another tale, it was unnecessary. Though with the love and care Pratchett obviously felt for Tiffany, it is no wonder that he wanted his last book to be with the character he loved most. And despite all the characters he has created over his prolific career, I find it amazing that so many people have identified with Tiffany; a rather obstinate, forthright girl, who just happens to be a witch. She's a character the likes of which will be echoed in countless other characters for a long time to come. Yet in the end, she's uniquely herself and uniquely Pratchett. And of all her tales, this one is uniquely perfect. It's rare that a book ends on just the right note, but Pratchett has succeeded perfectly. The absolute right note which has a bite of a susurration to it.


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