Tiffany Aching is a thirteen year old girl training to be a witch. She is assigned to be an apprentice to the witch Miss Tick. Miss Tick is frightening, none of her previous apprentices last more than a day or two. But Tiffany is tough. Besides, she learns that much of Miss Tick's fearsome reputation is an act - the frightful skulls are just plastic ordered from a "Boffo" site, which also sells Miss Tick her fake cobwebs.
Tiffany dutifully is learning the art of witching, until one day Miss Tick takes Tiffany to a dance (I don't recall why they went to the dance, because they are clearly not meant to join in). The festival features something called the Morris dance, where the season's enact the cycle of time. The elemental of winter, a powerful entity called Wintersmith, dances with the goddess of Summer. But the music is so compelling and enticing, that Tiffany finds her feet tapping to the music, and before she knows what she is doing, Tiffany is dancing along with the other performers - and she finds herself in the spot where Summer ought to be dancing. Wintersmith is entranced by a human, which he had never noticed before, and he decides that Tiffany must join him as his bride in his wintery kingdom. Rather than giving away to Summer, the world will be locked in endless winter, unless Tiffany can find away to reverse this mistake and restore the normal cycle of seasons.
Tiffany has a loyal contingent of tiny helpers, these are the kilt-wearing, blue tattooed Nac Mac Feegles, also known as the Wee Free Men. This troop of zany heroes speaks in a Gaelic dialect that is hard to read, but if you sound out the words, it usually becomes clear what they are saying. Generally, it is humorous, the Wee Free Men provide much of the comedy in this novel. Pratchett is a clever inventive wordsmith, and that is on display in Wintersmith. I put some bookmarks into my copy to mark passages that amused me:
"An heroic effort, Mr. Anybody," said Granny. "The first thing a hero must conqueror is his fear, and when it comes to fightin', the Nac Mac Feegles don't know the meaning of the word." "Aye, true enough," Rob grunted. "We dinna ken the meanin' o' thousands o' wurds!"
"Oh, a paintbox," said Mrs. Umbrage, looking over her shoulder. "That's nice. I had one when I was a girl. Ah, and it has turquoise in it. That's very expensive, turquoise. That's from your young man, is it?" she added, because old women like to know everything, or a little bit more.
"And he won her freedom by playing beautiful music," Roland added. "I think he played a lute. Or maybe it was a lyre." "Ach, weel, that'll suit us fine," said Daft Willie. "We're experts at lootin' and then lyin' aboot it."
"I hope I have got it right, though," said Roland. "My aunts say I am too clever by half." "Glad tae hear it," said Rob Anybody, "cuz that's much better than bein' too stupid by three quarters."
The story is more than just clever wordplay. It is a portrait of the likable, talented and persistent Tiffany who is striving to become a good witch. Can Tiffany be strong and smart and save Summer? Will the Wintersmith be banished for another six months?
Wintersmith is a fast read. It is 400 pages of fun and adventure and a little bit of magic. Now I have to find a copy of I Shall Wear Midnight.