a review by Nalini Haynes
I Shall Wear Midnight is the fourth in the Tiffany Aching series, Discworld stories for younger readers (aimed at older children or teens) about an intelligent girl who, when she was 9, chose to become a witch. This book opens with Tiffany aged 15, attending a fair alone because she has lost her beau Roland who is about to marry Letitia. The Nac Mac Feegles, the 6 inch high blue men with red hair, a love of drinking, thieving and fighting, are still following Tiffany around, in theory to protect her, but also making life difficult.
As the story unfolds we learn the Cunning Man is hunting Tiffany down. The Cunning Man is the ghost of a religious priest whose witch hunting and burning career ended with his love for a witch enabling that witch to trap him in the fire with her, killing them both. In the thousand years since then, the Cunning Man has kept returning to wander the earth destroying the innocent and guilty alike until a powerful witch sends him back. This time he was awoken by Tiffany when she kissed the winter in the previous book, Wintersmith, and in the two years since The Cunning Man has been hunting Tiffany to destroy her.
Pratchett respects his audience, striking a nice balance between earthy humour and delicately avoiding specific details, such as with his description of the giant carved into the ground as ‘in need of trousers’. There is no talking down to his audience, instead he talks about the facts of life such as birthing, suffering and death quite openly while alluding to the other facts of life witnessed by country children watching the cycle of life and death in the animals all around them.
In many if not all the Tiffany books, Pratchett discusses the nature of difference, how it sets some people apart and how sometimes this sense of difference is the basis for witch hunts that result in the death of innocent people. In the other books this is more of a background, but in I Shall Wear Midnight this difference and the resulting witch hunts are a major theme. ‘Poison is as poison’s welcome’, as Tiffany says, meaning that the poison of hatred only gets in the hearts of people who already have the seeds of hatred.
Tiffany’s adventure includes a flying visit to Ank-Morpork where she meets Mrs Proust, who is another witch, as well as old favourites including Captain Carrot, Captain Angua and Commander Vimes. There are also appearances from Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg as no good witch story would be complete without them. There are a number of references to other Discworld novels for adults as well, with cameos and references to still more characters.
Although it was widely acclaimed, including becoming a Printz Honour book and being shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal in 2010, Nation was the Pratchett novel I liked least. Since I read Nation I have had the pleasure of reading Unseen Academicals and now I Shall Wear Midnight.
I assure you that, while Pratchett may have to use creative means to work around his illness, his ability to craft a good story is undiminished. While I Shall Wear Midnight is not a personal favourite in the Discworld series, it is enjoyable for all ages and a recommended read.
It is not necessary to read all the Tiffany Aching books in sequence, they can be read as stand alone books. I personally enjoy experiencing the growth of characters and the building of the world in which they exist, so I would recommend reading all in sequence if you want to experience this series to the fullest extent. The books preceding I shall wear midnight are Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky and Wintersmith.
This review was previously published in Dark Matter issue 1, October 2010, and predated on this website to reflect the original publication date.