A Hat Full of Sky


Terry Pratchett


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

December 11, 2009

Hat Full of Sky is the second book in the Tiffany Aching series. It is just as much fun to read as the first novel, The Wee Free Men. I really like Pratchett's writing in this book. It seems so simple and straightforward, but really it is a masterpiece of words. It reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut's writing in that seemingly easy paragraphs contain engrossing story, clever wit, and memorable characters. You can't help but turn the page and read what happens next. Pratchett is the literary equivalent of Bill Waterson, the creater of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. Waterson's drawings appear to be "just cartoons" but in fact the deceptively simple drawings in the panels of the comic strips are masterpieces of hilarious comedy, wisdom, and unique and enjoyable characters.

In the first book, Tiffany Aching was a nine year old girl who demonstrated unexpected witch ability. In this second book, Tiffany is traveling to be apprenticed to a witch who will instruct her in full witchcraft. Her tutor/superior is Miss Level, a gives new meaning to split personality. I admired how Pratchett presented Miss Level's unique talent - clearly there is something strange/magical going on, and the reader figures it out before Tiffany does. Naturally, training to be a witch seems to have nothing to do with casting spells or reading musty tomes. Instead, Tiffany labors at mundane tasks of cleaning and gardening - haven't we read about this kind of instruction a few dozen times before? It seems that magical instructors are always teaching their wards about everything except magic.

While at Miss Level's, Tiffany encounters other apprentices to some of the other local witches. Naturally Tiffany feels like the country mouse who is left out by the sophisticated girls. I guess that's a rather predictable plot development, but Pratchett pulls it off because of his strong characterization.

Now that I think about it, the plot of A Hat Full of Sky is rather weak. The drama is provided by a powerful, unkillable energy-being called the hiver. A hiver is a souless creature that is drawn to bright people - it merges into their bodies, absorbing their personalities until nothing is left. Naturally, the hiver in this book is drawn to Tiffany, who is clearly a powerful witch, even though she is unskilled and immature. How can something intangible and immaterial and soulless like a hiver be defeated?

It's the Nac Mac Feegles to the rescue! The Nac Mac Feegles are the miniature men who have befriend Tiffany - they are a fearless lot of warriors despite their puny stature. Once they realize that the hiver threatens Tiffany a small group of them set off to warn/rescue Tiffany. One small thing that bugs me: the Nac Mac Feegles are NOT blue - they are normal colored pictsies who are covered with blue tattoos. But the cover painting shows them with blue skin.

I did not award this book five stars because the resolution of the hiver peril seems to be too easy. Something as powerful and deadly as a hiver, which has existed for centuries, should be implacable. I think Pratchett spent most of his energy on the characters and clever writing, and the plotting suffered because of it. No doubt about it though, the writing is clever. For example, everyone has Second Thoughts, but witches have Third Thoughts! If that style of writing doesn't amuse you, then perhaps A Hat Full of Sky is not your cup of tea. I think this was a very good book, no doubt I will pick up the third book in the series soon.