Pratchett's I Shall Wear Midnight, sentimental and fun book about a witch among enemies

By Cory Doctorow

Terry Pratchett's newly released I Shall Wear Midnight is the fourth volume in the Tiffany Aching books, about a young girl born to be the witch of a chalky, sheep-farming area called, simply, The Chalk (the other three volumes being Wee Free Men, Hatful of Sky and Wintersmith). Tiffany's old gran was the "Wise Woman" of the hills, and her gifts came down to Tiffany, who, at the age of 7 or 8, began to need them -- first to rescue the Baron's son when he was kidnapped by the Queen of Faerie (Tiffany hit her with an iron frying pan) and then to learn proper magic while apprenticed to a real witch, and finally to kiss the Wintersmith during a morris dance, and then have to set the seasons to right.

In Midnight, Tiffany returns. Now she's 16, and she has assumed all the burdens of being The Chalk's witch -- and they are burdensome -- delivering the babies, salving the wounds, clipping the neglected old ladies' toenails, changing the bandages, and using magic to take away the pain of the Baron, who is dying.

As if being thrust into an early maturity wasn't enough, witchery has fallen into disrepute on The Chalk -- and seemingly everywhere. There are old ladies being crushed and drowned by mobs, there are the whispers and the forked fingers to fight the evil eye when Tiffany passes, and then, when the Baron dies while Tiffany eases him into the next world, there is the wildfire rumor that Tiffany killed him.

What Tiffany learns is that a shade of an old witchburner, called the Cunning Man, has been summoned to the world. Where the Cunning Man walks, poison follows -- poison against witches, against the odd, against foreigners, against the out-of-place. The Cunning Man is shambling evil, a corruption that goes into all the places that welcome poison, all the dark and ugly corners of our minds.

Luckily, Tiffany has help -- her guardians and charges, the Nac Mac Feegle or Wee Free Men, a race of tiny blue faerie folk (technically, they are Pictsies) that wear kilts, carry claymores, live under the chalk, and fight and steal and steal and fight as though there was nothing better in the world. They are fast as lightning, nigh indestructible, silly as a bag of jello, good-hearted, and very difficult to be with. Some allies!

Midnight is certainly the darkest of the Tiffany Aching books, which, though touched with Pratchett's gift for sweet and even sentimental characterization and madcap plotting, have been somewhat sleight. These are young adult books and they are uplifting in their way, and lots of fun, but until now, without the barbs that lurk under Pratchett's humor and light treatment, making him such a beloved writer.

But Midnight is dark. As the Chalk's witch, Tiffany is called upon to tend to the horrors that everyone else would turn a blind eye to, including a man who beat his pregnant, 13 year old daughter so fiercely that she lost the baby. And the Cunning Man is a scary haint, described with merciless horror by Pratchett, who can do terrifying so well because you hardly expect it. Give this book to 15 or 16 year old who started reading about Tiffany when they were 8 or 9, and I think you'll hit them right where they live. What adolescent doesn't struggle with the bad things that everyone says they're too young to experience, but are there nevertheless? And what teenager doesn't know about the infectious hatred that sweeps through a mob when there is someone different and vulnerable, when one wicked or insecure person throws the first insult or whispers the first innuendo?

Of course, there's lots here for adult Pratchett fans to love -- Tiffany's travails take her to Ankh-Morpork, where she meets the Watch and has adventures on Tenth Egg Street (lately famed in Making Money and the other Moist von Lipwigg novels), and runs into one of the earliest and most delightful of Pratchett's heroines; she seeks counsel from the Lancre witches (and even Magrat comes along), and so on. This book really feels like a tying together of many loose ends in the Discworld, and I'll happily admit that it had me sniffling back tears in the last chapter. It's a Pratchett novel -- there's really not much else to say.

I Shall Wear Midnight

Published 6:42 am Tue, Oct 12, 2010

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About the Author

I write books. My latest are: a YA graphic novel called In Real Life (with Jen Wang); a nonfiction book about the arts and the Internet called Information Doesn't Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age (with introductions by Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer) and a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.

33 Responses to “Pratchett's I Shall Wear Midnight, sentimental and fun book about a witch among enemies”

  1. 5ynic says:

    Somehow Brisbane Library already has a copy, and am devouring it in awe. Definitely better than many of TP’s recent non-YA tomes.

  2. jamiethehutt says:

    I just started reading this a day or two ago, just 50 pages in and so far it’s REALLY good. In fact as it’s a rather rare sunny day here I’m going to go read it just now!

  3. weatherman says:

    This book isn’t about a witch – it’s about me!

  4. tad604 says:

    I used to read quite a bit of his disc world novels and started getting tired of them (much in the same manner I got sick of Piers Anthony’s Xanth novels).

    Given that, are these books worth reading?

    • Caroline says:

      tad604, the Tiffany Aching books are Discworld novels, so if you don’t like the other Discworld books you probably won’t enjoy these.

      Inversely, if you do like the other Discworld books, you should really, really read the Tiffany Aching books. And if you’ve read the other Tiffany Aching books, you should definitely read this one.

      I was skeptical of the Discworld books for a long time — thought they’d just be “zany!” sword-and-sorcery fantasy with stupid D&D in-jokes. I am happy to say that I was one hundred percent wrong. Pratchett is a truly great storyteller. And while you’re laughing at his jokes, he sneaks around and whaps you with an insight so poignant it makes you gasp.

      elagie, the “fire cupped in hands” echoes the cover of Wintersmith, which had Tiffany holding a Feegle in cupped hands. It may also be intentionally reminiscent of the Twilight cover; if so, I hope it works to get Twilight fans to pick up Tiffany Aching and discover a really human character and some really good writing.

      • MrsBug says:

        Caroline, that’s why I hadn’t read them either. I guess I was judging the book by the cover (har). I’m a convert now, however.

  5. Znaps says:

    You might want to read Equal Rites before you do this one.

    Also, that cover is horrible! Those CGI Feegles look horrific!

    At least one fan question has been answered though, about at least one member of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch…

  6. SamSam says:

    Will be buying a copy instantmediately!

    But the cover, though… Is this a line of covers that I hadn’t seen before, or is it a new thing. I… I really, really dislike it. It looks so fake-3D. The Nac Mac Feegle look like they are designed for a computer game.

    Maybe that just means that I’ll have to buy it hard-back, so that I can remove the dust jacket. Hmmm… clever strategy.

  7. knoxvillegirl says:

    Just finished this wonderful book. I love how Sir Pratchett’s Tiffany books transcend the YA genre.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Iron frying pans. What can’t they do?

  9. Billy Green says:

    Here’s the UK cover:

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/images/0385611072/ref=dp_image_0?ie=UTF8&n=266239&s=books

    Apparently, they’ve done studies, and the Kirby/Kidby artwork that has always sold well in the UK doesn’t inspire USAians to buy Pratchett books, so all his books have different cover art in the US.

    Never been a big fan of the US cover art, personally.

  10. jpburnham says:

    For those of you who don’t like the cover – the UK cover is much better (in my opinion anyway).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Shall_Wear_Midnight

  11. Another Aaron says:

    Oh my God, I didn’t know this was out – it’s all I can do not to slap a vacation day on the calendar and run to the bookstore right now.

  12. SamSam says:

    Aw man, there’s an equally-horrific Wintersmith cover that I had never seen. Same idea, same awful CGI.

    In general, I’ve never been the biggest fan of the Kirby covers either, much preferring the Kidby ones. For instance, here are the Science of Discworld covers by Kirby and Kidby. And the Nightwatch cover was by far my favorite.

    So who’s making these horrific CGI ones?

  13. MrsBug says:

    Oh lovely. I’m just working my way through the Discworld series now, and this will be another great series to get into.

    I get the best recommendations here!

  14. jamiethehutt says:

    Yeah covers often change for the US.

    Here is Iain M. Bank’s Surface Detail covers in US and UK versions:
    http://www.iain-banks.net/2010/06/23/surface-detail-cover-launch/

    Why did they bother changing it?

    (Although I, from the UK, do prefer the UK version, maybe Americans do actually prefer the US version)

  15. Anonymous says:

    My 10 year old daughter is a reading fiend, and has torn through more books than I ever did at her age, including all the sparkly vampire books Mom will let her get her hands on. Would this series be appropriate for her to read? It sounds interesting enough that I might try it myself.

    • Anonymous says:

      OH DEAR GOD, the sparkly vampires?! Please give her those books, they are far better, and far less damaging to a girl’s self esteem.

  16. elagie says:

    I’d read I Shall Wear Midnight twice within a week of getting it – which was, of course, the first day it was available here in the US. I always do that with his books, tear through them in one sitting the first time, then slow down and savor them more on each successive reading.

    I really enjoyed it (as I have everything he’s ever written — BTW, if you haven’t read Nation, do) and liked the fact that Tiffany will now “graduate” to the main Discworld series.

    But I have to join the ranks of those who dislike the cover art — even my 10 year old daughter (who has become a real Pratchett fan herself) HATES the way the Feegles are drawn/CG-d. And, is it just me or is the fire cupped in hands evocative of the whole Twilight apple in hands imagery? I suppose they have to do what sells books…and doing that means appealing to the lowest possible denominator.

    Still, if it encourages someone to get hooked on Terry Pratchett’s amazing stories, provocative insights, and masterful use of the language, it’s worth it.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Cory
    Agree with you about the last chapter. In fact was sniffling back tears of joy on the last line. The sound of love..

  18. Purplecat says:

    The “Horrible US cover” thing is well-known in the PTerry fandom. Fans of the books generally don’t like them, but US publishers are determined that they alone know what sells in their market.

    That’s far from being the worst thing to happen to the books, though. One of the European language versions added soup adverts into the text. Yes. Seriously.

  19. Omir the Storyteller says:

    I read the first three Tiffany books to my granddaughter at varying ages between 10 and 12. Definitely you should let her read them in order, and you might want to read them first, although if she’s made her way through the sparkly vampire books it’s doubtful Pratchett will throw anything at her she can’t handle.

    The themes get more complex and darker as they go along. For instance in A Hatful Of Sky (the second book) Tiffany has to deal not only with the evil bad monster, but with a bully, a boy and the nominally helpful Feegles. It’s hard to say which is the toughest challenge.

  20. Quothz says:

    I saw and snagged this a couple weeks ago and was glad I did. I think it’s one of Pratchett’s better stories even though it brought a lot of characters in from the rest of the Discworld books. It’s funny and charming with a solid storyline, good dramatic moments, and the craftsmanship Pratchett always brings to the table.

    My only (minor) criticisms are that the climactic scene was a little weaker than what I felt he was building up to, and for some reason everyone was constantly congratulating Tiffany on how perceptive/smart/wise she was being. After a dozen or so times of someone going, “well said” and like that, even when it made little sense or felt out of character, it got a little old.

    I’d just finished being disappointed in Unseen Academicals when I read it and this reminded me again why I love Terry Pratchett’s work. I selfishly hope he’s not slowing down much.

    • Beelzebuddy says:

      Tiffany Aching’s probably the only real Mary Sue that Pratchett writes heavily with. But that’s to be expected since it’s a novel for young girls.

      To be sure, most of Pratchett’s main characters toe the Sue line – MASSIVE SPOILERS BTW – Vimes wrestled with a literal demon made of pure will and won, Granny Weatherwax was bit by a vampire and the vampire caught her, Vetinari can drink soccer hooligans under a table and still plan the most minute detail of what goes on in the city, and Carrot’s, well, Carrot.

      But none of these characters completely cross it – Granny’s a right bitch, Vimes goes out and finds personal demons to be tormented by, Vetinari regularly needs to twist an arm or two, and Carrot’s whole stick is backing away from Sueness no matter how hard people push him forward.

  21. Pipenta says:

    I don’t know to explain the magnitude of my love for and gratitude towards Sir Terry. I discovered the Discworld books when I was going through a very dark time in my life. (I’d avoided them previously, because I had the idea, thanks to revolting cover art, that they’d be on a par with the Xanth books, which I tired of about a quarter of the way through the first book.) But I started reading Gaiman and from there “Good Omens” and then I sampled some pure Pratchett and was hooked, hooked, hooked. The local second-hand shop had about thirty of the paperbacks for around three bucks each. I ended up getting them all. They keep me alive.

    I had to make a long road trip that summer with my offspring. I picked up an audio version of “Hat Full of Sky” at the same used book store that had supplied me with all of the Discworld. Halfway between Flagstaff and Albuquerque, I nearly drove off the road, we were laughing so hard. A day later, high in a mountain pass, tears were rolling down my cheeks because of the altruism TP was championing. My real life, at the time, had me up against the worst side of humanity; cruelty and stupidity and pathology and dishonesty. I’d made one of those major life miscalculations that sometimes happens and trusted the wrong people. I got free, though not without taking major damage, but at the time I felt lost and hopeless. And here was Pratchett being wise and funny. And here was his Tiffany doing, not what amused her, but that which had to be done. Altruism! Responsibility! Maturity! The people in my life weren’t like that. The whole damn country seemed to not only be stepping away from that, but into some upside down bizarro universe in which virtues were vices while vices became virtues. And it was freaking me out.

    I’m too long in the tooth to identify with Tiffany, but Granny Weatherwax is a dandy role model. I’d like to be like her. The reality, I’m afraid, is I’m more like Nanny Ogg. Just give me a recipe for scumble, and I’ll be off and running.

    I’ll not only take Tiffany and her friends over sparkly vampires, I think she’s more interesting and more inspiring and more real than a certain young wizard in training that the whole world seems to dote on.

    I foist thee books on any young person who crosses my path. And, wonder of wonders, my octogenarian mother is currently working her way through the series. She has NEVER read any fantasy before, so I am amazed.

    And Cory, if you happen to run into Terry at one of those writerly function things, you tell him he’s got one reader out there who he really truly kept going in the darkest of dark times. And that his books aren’t just entertainment; sometimes they are like air and water for a trapped miner, sometimes they keep us alive. Tell him, for me, THANK YOU!

  22. Fishy says:

    I’m beyond excited about this book – but would have loved a spoiler alert at the beginning of the review, which I’m going to try as hard as I can to forget before I get a copy of the book!

  23. underground_slacker says:

    Whilst news of a new pratchett book is totally rad it also makes me think that this one could be his last. a thought that is more likely to be a certainty every year and doesn’t that just suck?

  24. Anonymous says:

    Your last paragraph gave me this horrible sad feeling that if it is the last of the Discworld books, so much was resolved that no one should be left too desperately wanting. That said, it was a brilliant novel and a fabulous conclusion to the Tiffany Aching story arc. I can’t wait until my dad finishes it so I can read it again.

  25. shadowfirebird says:

    I’m an adult and I don’t think the first three Tiffany books were light in content at all.

    True, they’re not as funny. But I think Pratchett uses the excuse of a young audience to drop some of the cynicism and speak more honestly about how he thinks the world works (and I mean, how people work).

    In the adult novels, witches are a comic form of adventurer. In the tiffany novels, “witch” is a code word for “parent”: without being preachy in any way, he’s giving a course on the stuff you need to know to be an adult — and being Pratchett, you’re unlikely to guess what that is without reading the books.

    For example, Miss Level advises Tiffany: “If possible, be yourself.” I’m still thinking about that one.

  26. complicity says:

    first to rescue the Baron’s son when he was kidnapped by the Queen of Faerie (Tiffany hit her with an iron frying pan)

    Cory, don’t give spoilers of other authors’ work. Especially when you get the spoiler wrong.

    • cuvtixo says:

      Well then, it’s not really a spoiler, is it? Perhaps readers will be delightfully surprised that Cory fooled them into believing… whatever it is. Hmmm, is it the hitting with the iron frying pan that’s wrong or the Baron’s son being kidnapped? Wait, don’t tell me!

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