Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Book Review - Terry Pratchett's I Shall Wear Midnight

I Shall Wear Midnight (Discworld Book #38) by Terry Pratchett
Published by: Harper Collins
ARC Provided by Harper Collins
Publication Date: September 28th, 2010
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
Challenge: Terry Pratchett, Fantasy
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy
Need not want. That's the way of the witch. You are respected and well regarded, but not really liked. Who 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 and die he will in this environment of fear and hate. She must help him escape. The day after the incident with Mr. Petty, Tiffany is called to the home of the Baron. Once everyone thought that one day she would be the mistress of the manner. 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. Letitia of the typical fairy-tale-princess-looks and the pretty gowns and the jewels, not that Tiffany is jealous or anything. But while Roland is away in the great city of Ankh Morpork, his father, the Baron, finally dies peacefully. But his 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 fact "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 or soon more hatred, fear and suspicion will spread. 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 she 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. While it was bittersweet reading this book, in that it is the end of Tiffany's story, I couldn't help feeling a sense of completion. It's rare that a book ends on just the right note, but Pratchett has succeeded perfectly, the right note which is a bite of a susurration. While I was sad not to see more of the other witches, I think it was key that the final tale was Tiffany's and Tiffany's alone. We have passing vignettes of favorite characters, but in the end it's only Tiffany and her actions that matter. Actions both past, present and future. The Cunning Man brings out the worst of humanity; he preys on man's treatment of man and their fear of the unknown. The evils of the past are bound to repeat, there will always be witch hunts, even if they aren't literally so. But the genius of Pratchett is that he has taken the concept of the wicked witch, turned it on its head and made 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. If we were all to act as the witches did, if we were to learn not to repeat the past and practice a little kindness, the world might be a better place, and that is indeed great magic.


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