Posts Tagged With: Gender in Fantasy

Book Reviews: Tiffany Aching and Other Witches


I’ve been reading a lot of Terry Pratchett lately.  Someone introduced me to a lovely infographic on where to start his books.  Discworld is so diverse that it’s impossible to know where to start, and very intimidating.  But the infographic made it alright.  Also, after reading several of the books, even as part of a series, I can say you should just dive in wherever looks good to you.  Everything I read would stand on it’s own.

I started with the Tiffany Aching books: The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, and Wintersmith.  There’s one more, I Shall Wear Midnight, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.  And then I picked up the first of the witches books, Equal Rites.  To say I’m a fan is an understatement.

First of all, I have a thing about men who write women.  Most men do it very badly, especially in the Fantasy genre.  The women in Terry Brooks’ “Magic Kingdom” books, for example, are a very good approximations of females.  But there’s something not quite right about them, although it’s hard to put a finger on what.  The same can be said of all the women in The Lord of The Rings (although I LOVE Tolkien second to none), anyone in the Wheel of Time series, even The Princess Bride a bit.  Don’t even get me started on Piers Anthony…

Pratchett doesn’t have that problem.  His women are WOMEN, real and accurate.  They care about domesticity, even while they strain against it.  They’re each powerful characters in a matter-of-fact way.  It also doesn’t hurt that he’s wildly funny.  I wholeheartedly approve, and I’ve been disturbing Brian’s sleep because I have to keep reading them into the small hours of the night, and I can’t help laughing out loud.

So here they are in more specificity:

The Wee Free Men:  My only criticism of this book is that Tiffany seems much more mature than your average nine year old should be.  Other than that, the book is perfect.  She uses her annoying little brother as bait, and then when he’s captured, takes on fairyland with nothing but an iron frying pan and a bunch of small pictsies (the Nac Mac Feegles) who are vulgar, drunk, and hilarious.  They have awesome names like “Rob Anybody,” “Daft Wullie,” and “No’-As-Big-As-Medium-Sized-Jock-But-Bigger-than-Wee-Jock Jock.”

It’s a story full of dreams and fairy queens; and a young girl’s need to live up to the reputation of her grandmother (who was probably a witch).  Tiffany herself is so spunky and practical that she is one of the best YA heroines I’ve read.  I would 100% recommend this book in every way.

A Hat Full of Sky: Not as good as Wee Free Men, I don’t think, but still pretty great.  Tiffany’s magic attracts the attention of something called a Hiver, which wants to take over her body and live as a mean, horrible version of herself.  She’s eleven now, and living in a different city with a woman named Mrs. Level who is actually one person split into two.  It sounds strange, but somehow it works.  The coven of witches with “no leader” is great.

The Feegles are back, and funnier than ever.  It seems like they’re hilarity is more for show than for actual plot furthering, but I do have to say that the dialogue while they’re all glommed together in a suit of clothes so they can pretend they’re a full sized man is just golden.  Especially everyone’s complaint about being the knees.  It’s sort of nice to see Rob Anybody coming into his own as a leader, too.

Full of much worthy stuff, and well worth the read, but not as tight as the other Pratchett novels I’ve read.

Wintersmith:  This was another of my favorites.  Tiffany is thirteen now, and studying with a Miss Treason, who is utterly delightful (if the adjective “delightful” can be applied to someone deliberately trying to seem nefarious).  She’s scary, and uses magic props from a catalogue to set up a haunted house-ish place in order to gain respect from the inhabitants of her village.  She takes Tiffany to the Dark Morris dance one night, and Tiffany gets swept up in it; dancing with Winter even though she isn’t supposed to.  The Wintersmith falls in love, and starts doing all sorts of embarrassing things like making snowflakes and icebergs in Tiffany’s image.

The Feegles are back in all their glory, along with an inexplicable sentient cheese.  The cornucopia is also pretty amazing, dumping hundreds of thousands of things you definitely don’t want into the house.  My favorite thing in the whole novel is all the “waily, waily” from the Feegles when Tiffany starts performing The Pursin’ o’ the Lips, and The Tappin’ o’ the Feets.

The end also feels inevitable and perfect.  I’d say it fully earned the awards it won.

Equal Rites: A hilarious comedy of errors, of sorts, where a wizard gets word that there will be an Eighth Son of an Eighth Son born in a small town and passes his staff on, but the Son is actually a Daughter instead.  She’s sort of forced to become a wizard.  The staff is temperamental, and  Granny Weatherwax is such a great character.  I got gleeful when she starts to make a bit of a romance of things with the head wizard.

Eskarina, or Esk, (the Daughter) is a stubborn girl.  She ends up entering the wizard academy as a servant, but still manages to learn a lot and ultimately saves the day.  Pratchett has such a way with character that you can forgive him a bit of density in his magical theory, even when she and the main wizard character come up with things that are utterly incomprehensible.  Did I mention that the librarian is an orangutan?

10/10 would read again.   And incidentally, if you’re looking for a well written essay by Pratchett on gender in fantasy, there’s a great one here:

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