Pratchett, Terry: (30) The Wee Free Men

I know I said I was going to read the sequel to Goblin Moon next, but when I said that, I didn’t know that there was a new Terry Pratchett novel out, namely The Wee Free Men—and I drop everything for a new Pratchett book.

I hadn’t realized this had already been published, and came across it by accident while browsing the YA section of my local Borders. (It was running a “buy two, get a third for 50% off” sale. New Westlake, new Pratchett, Teresa Edgerton’s latest, present for someone else, Michael Chabon-edited anthology, and a relatively non-offensive edition of I Capture the Castle. And elsewhere, Sherwood Smith’s Crown Duel. Yay, books.) It didn’t appear in the SF section at all, so if you have trouble finding this, check the YA section. (And then buy Sorcery and Cecilia while you’re there—but that’s another post.)

As I’ve said before, Pratchett’s YAs are basically the same as his adult novels except that they’re shorter, darker, and have chapters. I think of The Wee Free Men as Lords and Ladies II: The Next Generation. The Queen of Faerie is still trying to push her way into reality, because, well, that’s what she does; this time the witch facing her down is not Granny Weatherwax of Lancre, but nine-year-old Tiffany Aching of the Chalk. The title refers to her allies, a clan of the Nac Mac Feegle (pictsies; they’re six inches high, paint themselves blue, and spent all their time drinking, swearing, stealing, or fighting).

One of the things I particularly like about this book is Tiffany’s relationship with her grandmother, recently deceased and one of the two former witches of the Chalk. (The other is dying as the book opens, which is why the Chalk is vulnerable to the Queen’s incursions.) The book uses flashbacks heavily to portray this relationship, which is comforting, loving, and yet filled with awkward moments and unspoken regrets; I found the portrayal realistic and refreshing.

It’s that relationship, and the sense of place and history that are bound up in it, that keep this book from being just a rehash of Lords and Ladies. Yes, much of the action takes place in Fairyland, which is a first for the Discworld, and the Nac Mac Feegle have a somewhat more prominent role—but the natures of witchcraft and the Queen are themes that have already been done in the Discworld books, and without this additional dimension, I think I would find this book somewhat stale.

Okay, except for the Nac Mac Feegle, who I can’t help but find amusing no matter what the context (even if they’d run away from me because I’m a lawyer).

[Tiffany and the clan are going after the Queen, who has stolen Tiffany’s brother.]

“Why’re we stopping? Why’re we stopping here? We’ve got to catch her!”

“Got to wait for Hamish, mistress,” said Rob Anybody.

“Why? Who’s Hamish?”

“He might have the knowin’ of where the Quin went with your wee laddie,” said Rob Anybody soothingly. “We canna just rush in, ye ken.”

A big, bearded Feegle raised his hand. “Point ‘o order, Big Man. Ye can just rush in. We always just rush in.”

“Aye, Big Yan, point well made. But ye gotta know where ye’re just gonna rush in. Ye canna just rush in anywhere. It looks bad, havin’ to rush oout again straight awa’.”

Words of wisdom, indeed.

If you like prior Pratchett novels, I recommend picking up this one as well.

[ Also posted to rec.arts.sf.written; the post should show up here in a few hours. ]


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  1. Is this a Diskworld novel?

  2. Boy, I can’t believe I didn’t say that explicitly. Yes, like Lords and Ladies, this takes place on the Discworld.

  3. I thought it probably did: I read your review twice to make sure you didn’t mention it. Was too lazy to look-up spelling for Discworld, or even Google it.

    Lords and Ladies may be among my least favorite Discworld novels, but I have found that even my least favorite of his books will improve upon rereading. I still haven’t read Night Watch: need to put in my reserve for it at the local library.

    Thanks for the review. I think we may have similar tastes, since I usually agree with yours where I have read the book.

    By the way, in the most recent PN Elrod, Jack gets beat up again, and in a particularly horrific fashion that had me skipping quite a bit to the end. I don’t consider this a spoiler for the book, since if you read the series, he obviously gets beat up each time, and it obviously gets worse in each succeeding novel.

  4. Hmmm, actually I did mention it, but it was rather buried: “Yes, much of the action takes place in Fairyland, which is a first for the Discworld . . . “

    As far as _Lords and Ladies_, I guess it would depend on why you didn’t like it as much.

    Thanks for the warning about the latest PN Elrod, as well.

  5. I just read it this past weekend and enjoyed it very much. If you’ve read a lot of Discworld much will be kind of “yeah, yeah, we know already,” but it was certainly done well; the landscape of the Chalk was brilliantly evoked, and the Nac Mac Feegle are just plain fun. I’ll be muttering “Crivens!” for days now.

    I am a bit puzzled by the young adult label – other than the age of the protagonist, nothing about it struck me as YA.

    I recently reread Lords and Ladies, btw – there is a tendency I think in the Witch books to have a lot of good moments that somehow don’t *quite* manage to hang together as a whole. Wee Free Men does not suffer from this, btw. 😉

  6. I’ve only just discovered the Discworld books. Do I need to read these in order? I’m intrigued by the one you reviewed. It sound like it’s right up my street, but I don’t want to miss something I should know by reading previous books in the series.

  7. Elle: you certainly don’t need to read any other Discworld before this one, which is very self-contained in terms of its plot. There are a few characters from other books, but you don’t need to know them beforehand to understand where they’re coming from.

    Some of the Discworld sub-series do benefit from being read in order, particularly the Watch books. There’s a list in the rec.arts.sf.written FAQ that may be of help.

    Let me know what you think if you do try it.

  8. Interesting that the discussion here is about whether The Wee Free Men is a Discworld novel: because although, as you say, of course it is, it didn’t entirely feel like one. The Chalk is so completely different and disconnected a place – and so reminiscent of England’s chalk Downs (you’ve been reading Mary Russell, haven’t you, Kate?) that I wasn’t absolutely certain until Grannies Weatherwax and Ogg turned up at the end. And even then, it felt rather as if they’d been introduced for the purpose of anchoring this errant book into the Discworld. I’m not complaining, mind: I liked it enormously. I’m just remarking…

  9. Jean: re: the Chalk: I have indeed been reading the Russell/Holmes books. _O Jerusalem_ and _Justice Hall_ made excellent plane reading, and I have _The Game_ out from the library. Though I got much more of a sense of place out of the non-Sussex books, I have to say. I have to say that I completely thought _The Wee Free Men_ was a Discworld book, down to its core, even with the small overlap in characters and setting and the non-appearance of Death. But that’s just me.

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