16 April 2015

Books: I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett (2010)

I suppose, in some sense, the creation of Tiffany Aching by Terry Pratchett came because of the success of the Harry Potter franchise. This happens a lot in almost every aspect of media, as publishers are quick to jump on the bandwagon once other publisher takes a certain financial risk. Then again, Scholastic Books, which published J.K. Rowlings Harry Potter books, has been releasing kids books for decades, but it took the huge success of that franchise for other publishers to see that there was profit in what was now being addressed as Young Adult book (as opposed to intermediate readers of say The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia). The huge success of the Twilight and The Hunger Games series would have never probably happened if those books ended up in the horror and science fiction sections of bookstores. By branding and marketing towards teens, by creating a middle part beaten kids and adult books, publishers and authors saw a large leap in reading. Which is always good. Whether the books are well written, that's debatable. 
Still, Pratchett had a long and established career writing adult novels. Yes they're satirical, yes they were parodies of the fantasy genre, but most of the Discworld novels were well written with jokes and some situations that were adult-ish in nature. And whether the creation of Tiffany Aching (though Ysabell, the adopted daughter of Death and Susan, his granddaughter are very much the templates that would eventually become Tiffany) was Pratchett's idea or his publisher, the British author joined a list of writers who were generally known for more advanced aged readers and started writing books for a much younger crowd.
Still, like Rowling before him, Pratchett's Aching novels take on a lot of adult issues. And in I Shall Wear Midnight, the 38th Discworld book and fourth featuring Tiffany, the lines between young adult and the adult world get blurred. And much like the last book, Tiffany Aching is still working as the Chalk's only witch at a time of growing suspicion and prejudice. And as modern as Discworld can seem to be, it is clear that Pratchett's universe is set at time before the industrial revolution, a time when reason and logic was surpressed in favor of superstition and fear.
The Baron, who rules the land and who has been ill for years (and is the father of Roland, whom Tiffany saved in Wee Free Men) and whom Tiffany has been taking care of for the last two years, finally dies she is accused of murder. It seems the Duchess (who resembles The Dursely's), the mother of Letita who is Roland's fiancee, does not like Tiffany because she is a witch. At the time of the Baron's passing, Tiffany was taking away his pain by using a poker. This and money the Baron wanted Tiffany to have convinces the Duchess the witch killed the man. But, of course, Tiffany is a bit clever and before much can happen, she travels to Ankh-Morpork in search of Roland to give the sad news. But on the way Tiffany is attacked by the Cunning Man, a frightening figure who has holes where his eyes should be. In the city she meets Mrs Proust, the proprietor of Boffo's joke shop, where many witches buy their stereotypical witch accoutrements. When they find Roland and Letitia the Nac Mac Feegles, who have, as usual, been following Tiffany, are accused of destroying a pub. Tiffany and Mrs Proust are arrested by Carrot and Angua, and (nominally) locked up - although it is mostly, in fact, for their protection as people start to resent witches. But it is here that Tiffany meets Eskarina Smith (a character that has not been seen since the third Discworld novel Equal Rites) and learns that the Cunning Man was, a thousand years ago, an Omnian witch-finder, who had fallen in love with a witch. That witch, however, knew how evil the Cunning Man was. She was eventually burnt to death, but as she was being burned she trapped the Cunning Man in the fire as well. The Cunning Man became a demonic spirit of pure hatred, able to corrupt other minds with suspicion and hate. And now the Cunning Man (who first became aware of her because of the events of Wintersmith) is after her. 
With some knowledge of how to block the Cunning Man from finding her, Tiffany returns home to the Chalk, only to find things in disarray: the new Baron has his soldiers digging up the Feegle's mound. Even though she stops them, Roland throws her in the dungeon. But it is here we learn all of this was the doing of the Cunning Man and Tiffany also learns that Letitia is an untrained witch. But as events move towards a funeral and a wedding, Tiffany finds herself confronting the the Cunning Man, who has overtaken the body of a prisoner. And despite the many witches that have gathered for the historic events, Tiffany knows the only one who can defeat the evil is her.
As I said, this fourth book gets a little more adult, as in the opening chapters Tiffany must deal with the Seth Petty, a man who has attacked his own thirteen year-old daughter who has gotten pregnant. In hurting her, Mr Petty has killed his unborn grandson and it's up to 16 year-old Tiffany to deal with the consequences. There is some very adult things here, probably things some adults may not want their children reading, yet if we look at history and go back in time to England's medieval past, issues like this, while horrible, probably happened. I applaud Pratchett for trying to balance this reality in his lovely fictional world of Discworld. There is also the continued issue of responsibility along with cause and effect. It never occurs to Tiffany that her actions of kissing the Wintersmith would draw the attention of the Cunning Man, yet she knows clearly that it is her and her alone that must confront the evil, even while taking care of everyone around the Chalk. And I give credit to Pratchett who does not use the deus ex machina to solve all of Tiffany's problems, that the very smart, very quick witted teenager must solv her problems with great thought. It's a rarity in fiction where the hero does this.
Notee 1: Since I'm not reading these novels in order of publication, I'm sure I'm missing bits and pieces of information that get played out here. I know certain characters, in particular the witches, come from other books I've yet to read (there are six books in his witches cycle) and that the Cunning Man is the spirit of a long-dead priest of Omnianism, a religion established in Small Gods is referred to many times throughout other books. I have plans to get to them over the coming weeks and months. I hope that I continue to read them, I get a better understanding of Discworld and of Pratchett's view on the human condition. 
Note 2: On September 25, 2015 we'll see Terry Pratchett's final Discworld novel, The Shepherd's Crown. Once again, it will feature Tiffany Aching. And now I feel sadness, despite the fact I have many other Discworld novels yet to go. I guess, maybe, because there is an end in sight with this final novel? I like Tiffany a lot and I will be sad this fall when I read her final adventure. Maybe though, as I mentioned at the end of my Wintersmith review, his daughter Rihanna will take over this magically odd universe. If she is half as talented as her father, I would be happy to see this world continue...

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