2004-05-29 · in Books, Discworld · 539 words

They granted wishes — not the magical fairytale three wishes, the ones that always go wrong in the end, but ordinary, everyday ones. The Nac Mac Feegle were immensely strong and fearless and incredibly fast, but they weren't good at understanding that what people said often wasn't what they meant. [...] She was never likely to say, out loud, I wish that I could marry a handsome prince, but knowing that if you did you'd probably open the door to find a stunned prince, a tied-up priest and a Nac Mac Feegle grinning cheerfully and ready to act as Best Man definitely made you watch what you said.

The thirty-first Discworld book from Terry Pratchett, and the third book in the series aimed specifically at younger readers, a sequel to "The Wee Free Men". Trainee witch Tiffany Aching, leaving home for the first time, has to deal with a dangerous creature only remembered from legends with the help of the Nac Mac Feegle and a few Discworld regulars.

Terry Pratchett's writing style has changed significantly over the course of the series; the latest "big" Discworld books have been very dark, with ambiguously-good characters and lots of situations where it's not obvious that there is a "right" thing to do. These books thus serve the dual purpose of getting children who've read J. K. Rowling and are looking for something a bit more serious into the Discworld series, and allowing Pratchett to revisit and reinterpret themes that he hasn't covered since the start of the series. That's not to say that this story is all sweetness and light; there are some serious themes here, handled elegantly.

I was particularly impressed with the bits with the hiver-controlled Tiffany: he's very good at slowly revealing bits of a character's personality through their thoughts and how others see them, and having the realisation slowly dawn that something's not quite right was a nice touch.

This is a really beautiful hardcover book: a rainbow-coloured cover by Paul Kidby that wraps around the dust jacket, with matching pencil drawings in the text and at the head of each chapter (yes, chapter; you can tell it's a book for younger readers because it provides convenient places to stop reading); readable (and large) body text with various forms of emphasis used as appropriate to the story; neat little motifs by the page numbers. I hope Doubleday are going to keep this up, since it's a bit easier to justify buying the hardcover edition when it first comes out if it's going to look this nice to read.

I've only got two minor quibbles with this book: a handful of reused jokes from his earlier books (we've seen "scared of depths" three times now, I think), and an awful lot of OKs instead of other synonyms for all right. I'm prepared to forgive the first because he's aiming this series at readers who won't have read the other Discworld books, and I can put up with the second, although it makes the prose sound a bit odd at times.

The "children's" books are Pratchett at his best; every bit as good as the Guards stories, but more accessible. Thoroughly recommended, particularly if you aren't already a Discworld fan.