Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett

My Rating: 5.0 / 5.0

Amazon Rating: 4.70 / 5.00
Goodreads Rating: 4.25 / 5.00

I read this title as part of a Read Along, you can see what we all thought here: Week 1   Week 2   Week 3   Week 4

This is Discworld 32 and the second of the Tiffany Aching books: I previously reviewed Book 1, The Wee Free Men.

Tiffany has grown up a lot in the two years since she defeated the Queen of the Faerie armed only with her trusty frying pan and a small army of Feegles. Now aged a mature eleven, she has taken her first steps to becoming a real Witch and must leave home to begin her apprenticeship with the rather extraordinary Miss Level. Apart from living with a spirit called Oswald who suffers from Obsessive, Compulsive Disorder, Miss Level’s other big problem is that there are two of her. That is, there is only one Miss Level, but she has two bodies to make use of, which makes most of her assigned apprentices run screaming into the woods. Being a charitable sort of girl, Tiffany is happy to simply accept Miss Level for who she is, no matter how many bodies she uses. Plus, Granny Weatherwax thinks they will make a good match, and nobody sensible ever argues with Granny.

As Tiffany wrestles with the finer points of witchery, she tries to fit in with the local coven of young Witches. Their leader, Annagramma, has some very strange ideas about what it means to be a Witch and bullies the other youngsters mercilessly and yet Tiffany feels the need to fit in with the group. She realizes that she is probably the most powerful of the group, but she finds it difficult to overcome her insecurities and feel comfortable with them. Meanwhile, she has caught the attention of a strange, disembodied presence called a Hiver. It is drawn to her power and nothing can defeat it, not even a good head-butting from a Feegle.

For someone expecting to find nine year old Tiffany heading off to defeat another fairy tale enemy, this will be a disappointing book. However, if you are someone who wants to see how Tiffany changes as she grows older and faces more adult challenges, this is just the book for you. Over the last two years things have not changed very dramatically in Tiffany’s world, but she has become increasingly convinced that she must go out into the world to learn how to be a Witch. She does not really fit in as just a cheese maker or farmer’s wife, but she is willing to leave the comforts of the familiar in order to fulfill her potential. Personally, I find it very appropriate that we see her dealing with the normal issues of growing up as well as the more extraordinary ones associated with being a powerful Witch. The touches of everyday life that Mr Pratchett throws into the mix not only make Tiffany into a much more interesting and well-rounded character, but they also increase our ability to empathize with her. This draws us into her world much more successfully and places us firmly in her corner during times of trouble.  

In The Wee Free Men, I was a little disappointed by the Queen that Tiffany had to defeat because I did not get a sense of real danger and threat from the character. This is certainly not true for the Hiver. It is a truly alien being, with needs and drives that we cannot understand, that is attracted to powerful magic users and takes over their bodies. It stalks Tiffany for quite some time before finally pouncing on her and the way that she deals with it is both very intellectual and satisfyingly dangerous. This time there is no feeling of certainty that she will actually survive the encounter, especially once Death turns up. This in itself raises this title to a full five stars and makes it much more satisfying than its predecessor.

I think that Tiffany is rapidly becoming one of my favorite fictional characters of all time, and I was delighted to learn that a fifth title will be added to her series in the near future. She is so sensible and normal in every way apart from being a Witch. I loved the decision to take her into that troubling period of life known as Puberty because it allowed her to grow and change in a natural way. We got to see her self-confidence begin to shrink slightly as she moved out into a larger world where she would encounter other people similar to herself. I think it resonates with our own experiences of moving up from our cozy elementary or primary school into the much bigger high school. We suddenly become a small fish in a much bigger pond, and just at that time of life when we become so desperately concerned about what everyone else thinks about us. It is an awkward time to live through and I was interested to see how Tiffany dealt with all these transitions.

As I said in my previous review, I love the concept of Witchery that Mr Pratchett has created for Discworld. I especially appreciate the way that it is based upon common sense and general decency. However, in this title we get to see that not all Witches function in the same way and the appalling Annagramma seems to contradict the Witch’s role as a caregiver. It will be interesting to see if Tiffany’s methods of simple kindnesses and hard work win over Anna’s flashy clothing and mumbo-jumbo in later titles. The increased presence of Granny Weatherwax is another bonus that adds to the enjoyment in this title, especially when she and Tiffany share a discussion on the tastiness of voles. The new additions to the Witching world are pleasantly varied and each has her individual quirks. Young Petulia, who has an affinity for pigs, seems like a potential friend and ally for Tiffany, so I hope that we see more of her in the future.

Interestingly, Tiffany is not the only one going through a period of transition. The new Kelda, Jeannie, is somewhat jealous of Tiffany and her short period as Rob Anybody’s wife, even though the idea that anything happened between them is very, very disturbing. However, she is willing to put that aside and send a group of Feegles to watch over her rival because the Clan has an obligation to watch over the girl. In all other respects, she seems to be a very good Kelda, and certainly keeps the boys on their toes, even insisting that Rob learns how to read and write. He bravely attempts to wield a pencil even though the effort makes his head hurt and starts to see the value of thinkin’ as well as all the usual drinkin’, robbin’ and fightin’.

This is marketed as a Young Adult title, but it most certainly does not read like one and it has all the witty and ironic humor that you would expect from Mr Pratchett. It takes the Tiffany Aching saga in a slightly different direction than might be expected and is all the better for it.

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