Sunday, November 25, 2012
Genre: YA/MG fantasy
Pages: 375 (paperback)
Published: 2004 by HarperTrophy
Synopsis: Armed only with a frying pan and her common sense, Tiffany Aching, a young witch-to-be, is all that stands between the monsters of Fairyland and the warm, green Chalk country that is her home. Forced into Fairyland to seek her kidnapped brother, Tiffany allies herself with the Chalk's local Nac Mac Feegle - aka the Wee Free Men - a clan of sheep-stealing, sword-wielding, six-inch-high blue men who are as fierce as they are funny. Together they battle through an eerie and ever-shifting landscape, fighting brutal flying fairies, dream-spinning dromes, and grimhounds - black dogs with eyes of fire and teeth of razors - before ultimately confronting the Queen of the Elves, absolute ruler of a world in which reality intertwines with nightmare. And in the final showdown, Tiffany must face her cruel power alone....
The Wee Free Men is THE book I would give a young or pre-teen girl to read, after she read the classic musts like Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia, of course. And, though I'm a little older than the target audience, I also really enjoyed the first book in the Tiffany Aching series.
Nine-year old Tiffany Aching is far from the usual heroine of YA (and MG) fantasy and paranormal books: she's a farmer's daughter, well-trained in the timeless arts of cheese-making and caring for sheep. When a decidedly un-Glinda-the-Good-Witch-like Queen of Faerie kidnaps her sticky and obnoxious younger brother, Tiffany sets off on a quest to Faerieland (along with the Nac Mac Feegle-- a fearless band of Celtic warriors who happen to be very small and blue--, and an intelligent talking toad) to rescue her brother. I loved Tiffany as a character. She is told by the fully-grown and powerful witch Miss Tick that she has the potential to be a witch, which in Pratchett's world is basically a smart person who's always one step ahead of the masses, has a lot of knowledge of folklore and common sense, and can likely perform a spell or two. She uses her powers of "first sight and second thoughts" to accomplish things most nine-year olds definitely couldn't dream of.
I was also definitely loving the "girl power", in that Tiffany couldn't be less interested in boys, love triangles, or the social drama of high school. I love how generally different the setting of this series is compared to other YA and MG fantasies which take place in the "real world" as well as a fantastical universe. Rural or suburban high school seems to have become the default setting for the protagonist's pre-magical conflicts and problems, but Wee Free Men completely turns this tiring cliche (along with many others) on its head. The Wee Free Men (or Nac Mac Feegle, as they call themselves) are an interesting cross on Celtic brownie myths and, well, Terry Pratchett's amazing imagination. They're funny and violent and have incredibly long and complicated names because Mac Feegle tend to have only five or six common first names and many, many clan members.
The book has the feel of the few other Terry Pratchett books I have read (Hogfather and Small Gods being the ones I remember most) in that it isn't a long book to begin with, but when you read it you probably will get sucked in by the fast-paced story and quickly lose track of time. It only took me a few days to finish Wee Free Men, and that was with me exerting some self-control to do things like homework and eating meals. In short, this one is definitely recommended. I have the next book in the series, A Hat Full of Sky, on my shelf right now and hope to read it sometime in the near-future!