May 28, 2013

[Books] Wintersmith

I had already started reading Terry Pratchett's I Shall Wear Midnight when I realized that I had somehow skipped reading Wintersmith, which chronologically comes before it. It was a pretty weird mistake to make but I have to admit that it's not exactly the first time that this has happened. And I'm sure that my fellow bibliophiles can relate to this somewhat unusual circumstance - it's bound to happen sooner or later when you have too many books in your reading queue.

But Discworld novels are able to survive on their own for the most part, so reading And I Shall Wear Midnight first didn't drive me totally insane just yet. However the book was very direct in constantly reminding me as a reader that Tiffany had a rather significant adventure involving the Wintersmith and that I'd do well to read that book to figure out what the heck happened.

And so here I am with Wintersmith safely completed and my geek mind now fully at ease. And with a fun little adventure to share as a review as well.

Synopsis: Wintersmith is the third novel in the Tiffany Aching series of young adult novels and the 35th Discworld novel overall. Naturally it was written by Sir Terry Pratchett.

Tiffany Aching is steadily growing up and is pretty much 13 years old as this novel begins. As is fitting for any young witch, she is now training under another witch - in this case it's the rather infamous Miss Treason. Miss Treason is a strange, older witch who uses small animals (and sometimes Tiffany) to "see" for her given her poor eyesight and is senior enough to refer to Granny Weatherwax as much younger than she is. The townsfolk live in respectful fear of her and rumors about of demons that she keeps in her cellar or how her loom can somehow control the very fates of the people. But Tiffany with her Second and Third thoughts has already begun to unravel just what makes Miss Treason such an effective witch.

One day Miss Treason brings Tiffany to witness a secret version of the traditional morris dance. This one greets the winter instead of summer and for some reason Tiffany finds herself inevitably drawn to the dancers. She joins the elaborate dance and finds herself catching the interest of the spirit of winter himself - the Wintersmith. And thus the Wintersmith becomes somewhat enamored with Tiffany and strange things start to happen because of his interest. And therein lies the problem.

Now one could claim that having Tiffany accidentally being confused for the embodiment of Summer as a potential metaphor for her growing up and taking those steps to become a woman may seem a bit stereotypical, but that's life. And at the same time, the book does stress the value of stories and the power that have and it's probably no accident that part of the framework for this plot (and many other Discworld novels) try to follow familiar models and fables that we're familiar with.

Having said that, the book is as masterfully written as any other Discworld novel and I feel the only aspect that drives the story being a young adult novel is the fact that it has a rather young protagonist. Pratchett does not "talk down" to the reader nor overly try to simplify the language or anything like that. Instead we focus on this being a well-written story that has a most intriguing tale to tell.

The book operates on several levels, as is the way of such novels. Sure we have the main event of sorts in the form of Tiffany's adventure with the Wintersmith. But we also have a number of interesting sub-plots that are very well solid stories on their own. We have the complex relationship between Miss Treason her her town. We have the aspirations of young Annagramma and her efforts to become a better witch. We have young Roland living in near-seclusion back in his castle - although his isolation is largely by choice. And we have Granny Weatherwax and her own efforts to steer things in the right direction - even if this may include other witches.

And we had a good dose of Nanny Ogg, too! And who doesn't love Nanny Ogg, right?

When this series began I was a little miffed that the Lancre Witches, some of my favorite Discworld characters, had been relegated to being background characters in Tiffany's adventures. But over the course of these different books, Pratchett has admirably demonstrated why Tiffany is quite the brilliant little girl in her own right and quite the formidable witch. So yes, she is the sort of character is worthy of having Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg watching from the wings. And it all makes sense.

Wintersmith is a nice little adventure that has a lot going for it in terms of characters, plot and of course tapping into the richness of cultural folklore and tradition. And it's probably one of my favorite Discworld books now and I hope you enjoy it as well. The book thus rates a full 5 Nac Mac Feegles running around (including a cheese in a tartan) out of a possible 5.

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