Welcome, everyone, to a brand new weekly Smugglerific feature: Old School Wednesdays! We came up with the idea towards the end of last year, when both of us were feeling exhausted from the never-ending inundation of new and shiny (and often over-hyped) books. And what better way to snap out of a reading fugue than to take a mini-vacation into the past?
Inspired by our defunct From the Dungeons feature (owing a dash of inspiration from Angieville’s Retro Fridays), we decided to create a new feature for 2013. On Old School Wednesdays, we take a break from the new and pay homage to the old by reviewing books that are at least 5 years old.
Today, it’s Ana’s turn to take over with a review of The Wee Free Men!
Title: The Wee Free Men
Author: Terry Pratchett
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade/Young Adult
Publisher: Corgi Childrens / HarperTrophy
Publication date: First published in 2003
Paperback: 375 pages
Armed only with a frying pan and her common sense, Tiffany Aching, a young witch-to-be, is all that stands between the monsters of Fairyland and the warm, green Chalk country that is her home. Forced into Fairyland to seek her kidnapped brother, Tiffany allies herself with the Chalk’s local Nac Mac Feegle – aka the Wee Free Men – a clan of sheep-stealing, sword-wielding, six-inch-high blue men who are as fierce as they are funny. Together they battle through an eerie and ever-shifting landscape, fighting brutal flying fairies, dream-spinning dromes, and grimhounds – black dogs with eyes of fire and teeth of razors – before ultimately confronting the Queen of the Elves, absolute ruler of a world in which reality intertwines with nightmare. And in the final showdown, Tiffany must face her cruel power alone….
In a riveting narrative that is equal parts suspense and humor, Carnegie Medalist Terry Pratchett returns to his internationally popular Discworld with a breathtaking tale certain to leave fans, new and old, enthralled
Stand alone or series: This is Discworld book #30 but the first in a 4 book mini-series within the series. It can be read as a standalone too.
How did I get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): print
Why did I read this book: Because I have been meaning to read Terry Pratchett for a while and both The Other Ana and Meghan have said this was an awesome book and a great place to start.
I will start this post with another Old School Wednesdays’ confession: I only ever read one Terry Pratchett novel, Good Omens ages ago and that was only because he wrote that in collaboration with Neil Gaiman.
I know what you’re thinking right now: “CRIVENS! I can’t believe you haven’t read any Terry Pratchett till now, Ana.”
I KNOW, right? Anyway, the real problem with this course of action was of course, WHERE to start, given as how Pratchett has over 40 novels in the Discworld series alone. I had on good authority that even though The Wee Free Men is Discworld book #30, it was a good place to begin as part of a four-book YA mini-series featuring 9-year-old Tiffany Aching.
Tiffany is – as of this book – the current recipient of the newly-minted The Book Smugglers Award for Best Witch-To-Be on account of her perspicacity, courage, love for words, pride on her cheese-making skills as well as the ability to stand impervious and mostly unaffected by condescending adults, evil Queens, talking frogs and diminutive and outrageous, thievery blue men in kilts (otherwise known as Nac Mac Feegle or Pictsies [not to be confused with Pixies, if you please] or the Wee Free Men).
This is the plot and Tiffany’s personality in a nutshell:
”Another world is colliding with this one,” said the toad. “All the monsters are coming back.”
“Why?” said Tiffany.
“There’s no one to stop them.”
There was silence for a moment.
Then Tiffany said, “There’s me.”
So! Armed with a frying pan (as we all know, a perfectly good weapon of choice as evidenced in Tangled), common sense, the memories of her Granny Aching, and an inordinate amount of Chutzpah, Tifanny embarks on a journey to Fairyland to save her kidnapped brother (whom she says she doesn’t really like all that much but he is hers and as such, she must get him back). And although ok, that setup is not necessarily unique, boy did I love this book.
I loved Tiffany’s journey to Fairyland, as the two worlds collide and dreams and nightmares become intertwined with the real world and how the narrative itself seamlessly adapted to the ever-changing landscape that really reminded me of Diana Wynne Jones’ storytelling as well as Catherynne M. Valente’s recent Fairyland books. This ever-changing background and the stories-within-stories conceit also appears as Tiffany’s memories of her grandmother become clearer and clearer as she finally comes to understand what the stories about her really mean.
The writing is just the type of writing that I love. It’s clever, it’s subtle, it presents valuable, meaningful themes and ideas without being didactic or dumbed down to readers, it has an amazingly clever and astute protagonist and on top of everything it.Is.Hilarious. The portrayal of the Wee Free Men is ostensibly funny (they are afraid of nothing! Except maybe of lawyers!) but the sense of humour is present in everything even when the text is discussing Important Things.
Allow me to present a few choice quotes to better establish the above:
“All witches are selfish, the Queen had said. But Tiffany’s Third Thoughts said: Then turn selfishness into a weapon! Make all things yours! Make other lives and dreams and hopes yours! Protect them! Save them! Bring them into the sheepfold! Walk the gale for them! Keep away the wolf! My dreams! My brother! My family! My land! My world! How dare you try to take these things, because they are mine!”
(I absolutely loved how the above quote both reinforces Tiffany’s age and how children can be selfish and self-centred without portraying those as bad things)
“ “Yes! I’m me! I am careful and logical and I look up things I don’t understand! When I hear people use the wrong words, I get edgy! I am good with cheese. I read books fast! I think! And I always have a piece of string! That’s the kind of person I am!”
(How empowering is this?)
“The stories never said why she was wicked. It was enough to be an old woman, enough to be all alone, enough to look strange because you have no teeth. It was enough to be called a witch. If it came to that, the book never gave you the evidence of anything. It talked about “a handsome prince”… was he really, or was it just because he was a prince that people called handsome? As for “a girl who was as beautiful as the day was long”… well, which day? In midwinter it hardly ever got light! The stories don’t want you to think, they just wanted you to believe what you were told…”
(To sum up: Tiffany wants to be a witch because there is a lack of actual evidence that they are actually wicked)
“ “Zoology, eh? That’s a big word, isn’t it.”
“No, actually it isn’t,” said Tiffany. “Patronizing is a big word. Zoology is really quite short.”
And finally, what might just be my favourite quote of the entire book:
Are you listening?”
“Yes,” said Tiffany.
“Good. Now… if you trust in yourself…”
“… and believe in you dreams…”
“…and follow your star…” Miss Tick went on.
“…you’ll still be beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy. Goodbye.”
Basically I spent my time reading The Wee Free Men by alternating between laughing my head off and earmarking thoughtful sequences. I’ve already made arrangements to get my grabby hands on the sequels. And maybe even other Terry Pratchett books (I hear Nation is most excellent).
I am loving these Old School Wednesdays discoveries!
Rating: 9 – Damn Near Perfect
Reading Next: The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell
Buy the Book:
MeghanFebruary 20, 2013 at 6:53 am
I am so so glad you loved this! This little set of 4 books is just so wonderful. Your quotes make me want to go read it again. 😀
Fangs for the FantasyFebruary 20, 2013 at 7:14 am
Terry Pratchet in general and Tiffany Aching in particular are just amazingly close to perfect
LizFebruary 20, 2013 at 7:51 am
I am so happy you liked it! Terry Pratchett is absolutely amazing. Alternating between laughing your head off and earmarking thoughtful sequences is pretty much standard for his stuff. What a perfect way to put it. 🙂
Linda WFebruary 20, 2013 at 9:05 am
Yay!! I’m glad you liked it. This is one of my favorite books. Terry Pratchett is a genius. After the Tiffany Aching mini-series you’ve got to read the City Watch series, starting with Guards! Guards!
ElizaFebruary 20, 2013 at 9:57 am
YAY! So glad that you loved this book and Tiffany. She is awesome and it just gets better watching her grow up and into her powers. Of the four Tiffany books, I think Wee Free Men and I Shall Wear Midnight (#4) are tied as my favorites. They’re perfect bookends to the series. Next would be Wintersmith (#3)and then A Hat Full of Sky (#2). All are fun with Pratchett’s trademark wit, social commentary, and show a wonderful progression of character.
My entry point into the Discworld was Thief of Time, which I loved and still remains one of my favorites of his books. Death, one of my favorites, is a main character as well as his granddaughter, Miss Susan. I think that you’ll love Miss Susan.
As to which books to read after you’re finished with the Tiffany Aching quartet, you can read them chronologically or by characters but you can really jump in anywhere since all of them can be read as stand alone. I find that in his earlier books the puns and humor are much broader and less subtle with a tendency to take a joke a bit too far than his later works but his characters are still great. He’s been writing for a long time, so needless to say, his writing but keeps improving.
Rincewind/wizard novels (not my favorite. I really don’t like Rincewind but others love him.)
Witches novels – love these and Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg. Equal Rites introduces a witch who later becomes a key player (not a spoiler) in I Shall Wear Midnight.
The Watch novels – Sam Vines and other characters of the city watch.
Industrial Revolution (sort of a subset of The Watch novels)- takes on movies, newspapers (The Truth), postal system (Going Postal), banking (Making Money)
Here’s a nice chart with the books broken down in the above categories. It doesn’t include his most recent books but will give you a good idea about how they relate to each other. There are recurring characters throughout the series. It’s fun to watch them pop up.
Nation is a good book and I think you’ll like it a lot especially since you liked Gullstruck Island/The Lost Conspiracy, which it reminds me of a wee bit. Nation is not a Discworld book and his humor is a little more subdued but still there and acute nonetheless.
One word of caution, I find that I can’t read more than 3 of his books in a row. It’s kind of like binging on candy. It’s great but then all of a sudden it’s too much. Maybe because he has such strong voice.
KaetheFebruary 20, 2013 at 10:03 am
You captured the delight of reading Terry Pratchett perfectly. I’m jealous, because you’ve got all these great books to discover.
DaveFebruary 20, 2013 at 11:21 am
I live in a perpetual state of wishing I could return to being a Pratchett-virgin. I envy anyone who gets to read him for the first time. Just as I envy anyone reading The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy or Catch 22 for the first time.
Patricia @ Lady with BooksFebruary 20, 2013 at 11:50 am
That’s right. Come over to the dark side. You know you want to. The Witches series are my favorite books out of the Discworld series, Witches Abroad being my favorite out of those. Really, after the first couple of books it doesn’t matter what order you go in. Characters pop in, out, and all over the place. After the first four or so of the books, you’ve got a good enough base that you can read any of the others and be okay. Terry Pratchett will forever be one of my absolute favorite authors.
EstaraFebruary 20, 2013 at 12:47 pm
I love you discovering the old gems ^^. Not that I’ve read everything, heh, but you and Thea have a real gift of sharing the excitement to discover a large ouevre and being happy to dig into it!
I read the original novel and quite loved the three adventure games at the time (not just because they really captured the humor, but also because the creme of English comedians did the voices – Eric Idle was Rincewind, f.e.), but didn’t really love it enough to follow the development of Discworld, even though many friends quoted with delight.
ErikaFebruary 20, 2013 at 2:52 pm
I absolutely loved this book! I’ve put off reading I Shall Wear Midnight because it is the last Tiffany Aching book and I will miss her.
Rachel NeumeierFebruary 20, 2013 at 9:28 pm
My very favorite Pratchett book is NIGHT WATCH. Or maybe REAPER MAN. The first is a Sam Vimes book and the other a Death story. I hope you get to those eventually!
I’ve been listening to the Tiffany ones. Fabulous for long drives!
Jackie Morse KesslerFebruary 21, 2013 at 7:04 am
I **adore** the Tiffany Aching quartet! So glad you finally (!!!) started reading Sir Terry.
AnaFebruary 21, 2013 at 11:07 am
Yay, I am loving all this love. And thank you all for the recommendations, I can’t wait to read more of the TA books but also ALL THE OTHERS.
<<<<< OMG MUST READ SOON
ElizaFebruary 21, 2013 at 3:04 pm
It would be fun if all the Terry Pratchett fans listed (a) his first book they read and (b) their favorite book. I wonder how often it will be the same one. I’ve already listed mine, The Thief of Time. The Tiffany Aching quartet (I can’t separate them) are a very close second with Going Postal probably coming third though I’ll have to think about that a bit. There are a couple of other contenders. So hard to choose.
Ana @ things mean a lotFebruary 22, 2013 at 4:39 am
Ana, I think I told you before that one of the reasons why I fell in love with Fly by Night is that Hardinge reminded me a lot of Terry Pratchett in some ways. Not that her style isn’t entirely her own, but you’ll soon see what I mean. You can totally borrow M’s copy of Nation and the other Tiffany books 😀
Robert P. WillsFebruary 23, 2013 at 6:32 pm
Hmmm… I had a couple of reviews mention Terry Pratchett and I hadn’t read any of his work so I started The Color of Magic. Maybe I’ll jump to #30 for the mini-arc, then go back to #2?
I was just getting ready to tackle the Wheel or Time saga but I don’t know if I can read all those,and the entire Discworld series and still have time to write!
Maybe I’ll just quit my day job…
=TamarFebruary 24, 2013 at 5:43 pm
Robert P. Wills: The first two are halves of a single story, but they suffer from being the first books before he developed into the much better writer he rapidly became. So I recommend reading #30 and that arc, and then maybe “Guards! Guards!” before going back to finishing #1 and reading #2.
Robert P. WillsFebruary 25, 2013 at 1:18 pm
Thanks for the advice- I’ll definitely do that. From looking the guy up online he seems like a remarkable fellow. So now I need to dig up a copy of #30 and run with that…
Honestly, I’ve been putting off the Wheel of Time series because it seems so daunting, even though I enjoy Robert Jordan’s Conan books completely. I think I’m going to save them for an upcoming deployment since there’s not much to do in the evenings except write. That’s where I got over half my first book finished; lovely Bagram, Afghanistan.
AmandaMarch 12, 2014 at 6:43 pm
This is one of my favorite books. I’m glad you loved it, too!