I Shall Wear Midnight: A Tiffany Aching Adventure
Is it possible for the end of something to be both genuinely sad and yet utterly satisfactory? Sobered but satisfied might describe the legions of Terry Pratchett fans who, with I SHALL WEAR MIDNIGHT, will arrive at the end of his four-volume mini-series featuring the coming of age of apprentice witch Tiffany Aching.
When readers first met Tiffany in THE WEE FREE MEN, she was nine, a country girl in too-big boots, an aspiring cheese maker, unaware of her hidden talents as a witch until she was plucked off the Chalk and whisked away to the mountains to learn the often thankless art of witchcraft. Here, in her fourth and final adventure, Tiffany is 16, "a witch alone," operating free of the control of Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and the other senior witches --- but always, of course, looked after (whether she likes it or not) by her fiercest and fondest companions: the tiny blue Nac Mac Feegle, who follow her everywhere and would defend her to the death.
At the opening of I SHALL WEAR MIDNIGHT, Tiffany has discovered that being a witch means bearing all kinds of pain, acknowledging truths that most people ignore, facing difficulties that many never have to view head-on. Tiffany is learning that the life of a witch is hard, painful and often lonely (no matter how many Feegles might follow you), but also necessary to the well-being of her people: "You know how Granny Aching always used to say: ‘Feed them as is hungry, clothe them as is naked, speak up for them as has no voices’? Tiffany says. Well, I reckon there is room in there for ‘Grasp for them as can't bend, reach for them as can't stretch, wipe for them as can't twist,’ don't you? And because sometimes you get a good day that makes up for all the bad days and, just for a moment, you hear the world turning."
Tiffany is both passionate and pragmatic about her work as a witch, but doing that work is becoming increasingly difficult, as a malevolent presence seems to be turning folks against witchcraft in general and Tiffany in particular. What's more, the Baron, the head nobleman in Tiffany's district, is at death's door, and his son Roland, Tiffany's childhood sweetheart, is poised to marry a young woman who couldn't be less like Tiffany (at least on the surface). Just as she's about to face her most daunting foe --- a task that will require proving herself in front of her teachers and peers --- Tiffany feels more alone than ever.
Although the four books featuring Tiffany Aching have been marketed to younger readers, they are part of Pratchett's expansive and endlessly entertaining Discworld series. I SHALL WEAR MIDNIGHT seems, in many ways, the most closely integrated into the rest of Discworld, as Tiffany journeys to the bustling city of Ankh-Morpork and even receives essential (if cryptic) counsel from one of Pratchett's earliest heroines. Perhaps Pratchett, as he draws this cycle to a close, is gently nudging his younger readers toward the riches that lie outside the Chalk but within the rest of Discworld.
As one character remarks to young Tiffany near the end of the novel, "Classic endings to a romantic story are a wedding or a legacy, and you have been the engineer of one of each." Certainly Pratchett, a storyteller for the ages, knows how to craft a fulfilling, classic ending. Those who want to see Tiffany succeed in her chosen craft will cheer her on; those who long for her to find love might be surprised, but not disappointed, at what (or, rather, whom) she finds. Even those pesky, lovable, unforgettable Nac Mac Feegle receive their ultimate reward. So, although readers might at first be cursing "Crivens!" at the thought of never hearing from Tiffany, Rob Anybody, or Daft Wullie again, they can close the book on their adventures with a deep sigh of contentment. "All's right with the (Disc)world".
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on September 28, 2010