I Shall Wear Midnight


Terry Pratchett


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

September 14, 2021

iffany Aching, everyone's favorite young witch, returns for her fourth adventure in I Shall Wear Midnight. Tiffany is now a full fledged witch, and it is her responsibility to perform all the witch chores over a large landscape, called "The Chalk". Witch chores involve a lot of healing and philosophizing and generally helping out the villagers with their difficult lives. Only occasionally does being a witch require Tiffany to use her magical powers - though she does flit from place to place on her broomstick.

Despite all of her hard work to aid the residents of the Chalk, it seems that there is hostility in the air. People are glaring at witches, they frown at the sight of Tiffany's black pointy hat, they whisper amongst themselves when she walks through towns. Why this chilly reception from the villagers that Tiffany helps? It seems that an evil ghost is in the air, poisoning the minds of people with evil talk and malice. This eyeless ghost, called the Cunning Man, cannot be perceived by anyone but a witch, but its malign thoughts spoil the minds around it. As Tiffany notes, the poison seeps in where it is welcome - people who want to hate will find reasons to do so. The Cunning Man is focused upon Tiffany - and if she does not defeat the evil ghost, her beloved Chalk will fall into strife and ruin.

Tiffany does have allies - primarily the other witches, and the troop of tiny, indestructible blue fairies called the Nac Mac Feegles (the Wee Free Men). Despite their small size, the Feegles are fierce fighters and cunning fighters, excellent spies and deft thieves (though only for a good cause, of course). The Feegles follow Tiffany about, offering suggestions and interfering with her work. Mostly, the Feegles are included for the comedic effect

To me, two aspects of this novel make it a winner. First, sixteen-year old Tiffany tries so hard to be a responsible adult witch that the reader cannot help but cheer her on as she faces perils and obstacles that would challenge even the most experienced of witches. Tiffany is quite the likeable character, believable and interesting and full of wisdom the belie her youthful years. The Tiffany Aching books have all been great reads

Secondly, Pratchett's humor is great fun. He loves word play, making humorous asides that are often quite clever. I am amused by his writing. Here are a couple of sentences:

"Tiffany opened her mouth to reply before she had any idea of what she was going to say, but that is not unusual among human beings."

"How could the Cunning Man, some old ghost, beat her on her own ground? She had family there, more than she could count, and friends, more than...well, not so many now that she was a witch, but that was the way of the world."

Pratchett also sprinkles in some footnotes through out the text to make a few extra jokes:

"First Sight means that you can see what really is there, and Second Thoughts mean thinking about what you are thinking. And in Tiffany's case, there were sometimes Third Thoughts and Fourth Thoughts, although these were quite difficult to manage and sometimes led her to walk into doors."

"There is a lot of folklore about equestrian statues, especially the ones with riders on them. There is said to be a code in the number and the placement of the horse's hooves. If one of the horse's hooves is in the air, the rider was wounded in battle; two legs in the air means the rider was killed in battle; three legs in the air indicates that the rider got lost on the way to the battle; and four legs in the air means that the sculptor was very, very clever. Five legs in the air means that there is probably at least one horse standing behind the horse you are looking at ; and the rider lying on the ground with his horse lying on top of him with all four legs in the air means the rider was either a very incompetent horseman or owned a very bad tempered horse."

If I have any slight complaint about I Shall Wear Midnight, its that the Mac Nac Fleegles now seem to be invincible. They can whip any opponent, which just seems too unlikely. The other thing that I wished had turned out differently is the climatic confrontation between Tiffany and the Cunning Man. I expected a dramatic showdown, but it seemed as if the climax was over before it started. I went back and reread that part, because it seemed like I had missed something.

There is still one more Tiffany Aching story left for me to read, The Shepherd's Crown, which I think was the last book Pratchett completed before his death. I definitely hope to read it before my own encounter with Death (Death is a recurring character in Pratchett's Discworld novels, he makes a brief appearance in I Shall Wear Midnight.