This is the fourth Tiffany Aching book from The Great Man and his thirty-eighth Discworld novel. If you are a fan, then you’re in for a treat – this is classic Pratchett, complete with all the special individual touches we enjoy from this unique author, including the famous footnotes.
Tiffany is older, but Life isn’t getting any easier. She is working flatout in treating the sick – both animal and human, laying out the dead and interceding in local quarrels. In short, the duties of a typically busy witch. It doesn’t help when Roland announces his engagement to a highborn girl with blonde hair and delicate features. Neither does it help when the Nac MacFeegle, who insist on shadowing her every move, decide that she needs their help. Because something has been awakened. Something foul smelling and evil – something that moves amongst people and turns them against witches. Once more, it is down to Tiffany to save the day. But despite the fact that she is older and wiser, there’s every chance she’ll not succeed…
We meet up with a bunch of old friends in this book – the Nac MacFeegle are as hilarious as they ever were; Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg feature as they give Tiffany what help they can; we also meet up with Eskarina Smith, the female wizard who featured in Equal Rites and discover what has happened to her in the intervening years. I got the sense that Pratchett is tying up some dangling ends in this story and saying farewell to some of his most beloved characters.
There are familiar Pratchett themes in this book—the importance of thinking for yourself, rather than accepting what you’re told; of doing the right thing whatever the cost; the notion of community; endeavouring to leave things better than you find them… Which all sound very worthy and rather stodgily dull. But this is Pratchett’s genius—he manages to wrap up such fundamental, worthy ideals in stories that sparkle with wit, humour and adventure. This one is no exception.
And there is, of course, the overarching idea that runs throughout this particular sub-series of the Discworld books – the notion that stories and belief profoundly impact on everyday life, affecting even those who are more sceptical. Pratchett’s contention is that humankind cannot cope with Life on almost any level, without overlaying it with a veneer of the mystical, amazing and macabre. This theme is embedded in all the Discworld books to some extent – but is at the core of all the Tiffany Aching books, as Tiffany is the sceptical one who is frequently amazed at the lengths people will go to preserve their ideas and beliefs. The myths that have grown up around Miss Treason are an amusing example.
Pratchett has a wide cast of characters that people the Discworld, but I suspect Tiffany is one of his favourites. She certainly is probably his most lovable heroine, with her unassuming courage and strong common sense. I don’t believe there are any more Tiffany Aching books planned – and if this is, indeed, the very last one, then Pratchett has completed the series on a suitably strong note.