Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Book Report: I Shall Wear Midnight, by Terry Pratchett

As should be obvious by now, I'm a huge fan of Terry Pratchett's work and await each new book with the anticipation and impatience that most people normally associate with Christmas. Coincidentally, I got this one for Christmas, so there's some synchronicity here.

This is the latest entry in the Tiffany Aching cycle, a series for middle-grade readers that includes Wee Free Men, Hatful of Sky and Wintersmith. As you'll see from the sidebar, if you go back far enough, I loved these books and reread them on occasion. In fact, to "prepare" myself for this book, I skimmed through Wee and Sky, and read Wintersmith through before settling down to I Shall Wear Midnight.

The book contains much of the trademark Pratchett wit, but it incorporates an unaccustomed darkness that has informed a great deal of his later work. I suspect this has a great deal to do with his prognosis, but it is not a welcome incorporation for this reader. And as I neared the end of the book, I had to face the realization that I held in my hands a Pratchett I could not love. There are so many things to love about this book: the characters and humor, the wit, the writing... that I'm a little disappointed by myself.

The story concerns Tiffany, who is trying to get over being replaced in the affections of the Baron of the Chalk and dealing with how much of a witch's life is given over to altruistic service. As it progresses, one-time friends grow increasingly hostile and she finds herself encountering again and again a revenant in the form of a long-dead priest with a fanatic desire to see her dead. At one point, things seem hopeless for Tiffany as the revenant seems to inspire foaming-at-the-mouth witch hatred in everyone around it. At points, the narrative comes close to horror in its bleak outlook.

I could not love the book because the obstacles are overcome with little difficulty and hardly any tension. The anti-witch sentiment is resolved about 2/3 of the way through the book and proves to have quite a different source than the specter. Likewise, Tiffany disposes of the ghost, who is built up to be a challenge for even Granny Weatherwax, the Discworld's greatest witch, within a handful of pages. There follows an overlong epilogue in which Tiffany is allowed to dole out rewards to the deserving, and finds a new object for her affection.

I felt that the character and the situation required more drama than that which unfolded in the pages.

In all, this book feels like a swansong, a last tying up of threads, even to the point where Eskarina Smith, the heroine of Equal Rites (the first Discworld book featuring Granny Weatherwax) makes a cameo to bring closure to Tiffany's story. Understandable, given Pratchett's situation, but I have been spoiled by the high quality of books like Mort, Wee Free Men, Thud, Interesting Times and Small Gods (one of my favorites), and I don't feel this one belongs in their number.

Ulysses Rating: 3 - I Enjoyed This

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