Mar 29, 2011

[Books] The Wee Free Men

The Wee Free MenWhen a book is marketed for younger audiences, it's hard to really make a call about whether or not I want to take the risk and read it. Let's face it - in a post Harry Potter world, a lot of authors have tried to "crack the formula" of the young adult myth and fantasy genre in order to capitalize on the new reading market. There have been strange offshoots of this behavior as well in what is now officially the paranormal romance book genre (*shudder*), and I doubt we've seen the last of the serial young adult book franchise.

But when popular authors of more adult-focused fiction venture into this realm, well, it becomes somewhat more forgivable, in a manner of speaking. And I know, if that were turned into a general rule then there are bound to be exceptions out there so I'm not proposing that. However I'm sure you can understand how it becomes easier to follow an author from one genre or medium to another given he or she has already earned your loyalty. It's like how Sandman readers come to appreciate Neil Gaiman's novel work and how those fans in turn can also come to appreciate his young adult fiction as well.

So when it comes to the crazy works of Sir Terry Pratchett, you'd think that it would be difficult to translate his Discworld books into something generally appropriate for children. However as this book proves, it can certainly be done. The trick, I would think, is remembering that you should never talk down to children - they're a lot smarter than you think.

The Wee Free Men is the 30th Discworld novel published, the second young adult novel created within the Discworld universe and the first focused on the character of Tiffany Aching. Like all other Discworld books, it was written by Sir Terry Pratchett.

The story starts with Miss Tick, a witch, who has been drawn to the area of the Disc known locally as the Chalk. Trouble is brewing once more and she can't quite put her finger on what it is right away. However given her brand or variety of witchcraft, she's unable to exercise her powers while on chalk instead of solid earth, further complicating her investigation of the troubles in the area.

Enter 9 year old Tiffany Aching, whose current hobbies include refining dairy products (translated: making cheese and butter), watching over her younger brother Wentworth (who is perpetually sticky) and aspiring to one day become a witch. And with creatures of old stories such as monsters in the river and headless horsemen start to appear, it's up to young Tiffany to get to the bottom of things. Oh, and she has new friends in small places too.

Granny Weatherwax as she appears in The Pratch...Image via WikipediaNow I have to admit that I'm a big fan of the Discworld Witches. Pratchett's unique take on witchcraft, which is worlds away from your classic image of magical spells left and right and vile things bubbling in cauldrons, has always been nicely refreshing. Their "powers" are far more subtle and more of than not they tend to resort to logic and practical reasoning. This comes with the territory when you can see the world around you precisely as it is instead of how people choose to see things - and there's a big differences between the two as well.

This book provides an interesting look at how Discworld witches are born or perhaps even created - a debate that I'm not going to get into. Provided that Tiffany is probably not your typical girl, then again what witch can ever be termed as a "typical" anything? If ever, each witch clearly has his or her trials to take before other witches even consider helping her out on this chosen path, something the book captures beautifully.

Now the book features the Nac Mac Feegle in a rather prominent manner. Yes, they are horrid little stereotypes as characters and tend to turn off other readers given their limited incursions into other Discworld books. However, they're really not that bad when you given them a chance, and I say this as someone who totally hated the Feegles when I first bumped into them in Carpe Jugulum. While this book didn't completely turn things around, at the very least I learned to appreciate them given the limited details provided about their background. Besides, they become more tolerable given Tiffany gets to order them around and keep them generally under control.

I really like Tiffany Aching though. At first she seemed a tad too likable from a crafting perspective as if she was designed to be appealing. But in the course of the book, she genuinely earned my respect for how she dealt with the challenges poised against her, especially when she had to leave the Chalk - and I won't disclose more than that at this point. Spoilers are bad for business, in a manner of speaking. In the long run, she proved to be a pretty good witch-to-be and I look forward to picking up her other books...at least until the next formal Discworld novel comes out.

Oh, and the book does feature some of the more popular witches such as Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg towards the end, and that's a bit worth waiting for. True, there's a lot of semi-metaphorical dialog thrown about, but the end results are most interesting indeed.

The Wee Free Men is an interesting expansion of the Discworld universe and a gives us a great new character to follow around in the form of Tiffany Aching. It gets 4 annoying things the Nac Mac Feegle exclaim out of a possible 5.




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