The Wee Free Men - Terry Pratchett

A short review posted on Usenet (or see Google's archive).

The Wee Free Men
Terry Pratchett
Doubleday Publishers
ISBN 0385605331

(Another book I read prompted by recent threads here.)
A 'Young Adult' novel from Pratchett - I haven't read any of his YA books before, and I think I may have made a mistake in that as The Wee Free Men is as enjoyable as any of the other DiscWorld books. Despite a fairly solemn central theme - actually, YA books always have very dark themes! - The Wee Free Men is also hilarious in places; which isn't a given with recent Pratchett novels. For example, Night Watch was very fine, but I wouldn't describe it as a 'laugh out-loud' book. Overall, this isn't his best book, but it's one of his better, and definitely in Sturgeon's 10%.

The tale concerns the Queen Of Faery trying to get into the world; shades of Lords and Ladies. The area's witch who would stop her is dead. If she was a witch. At any rate, her grand-daughter, nine year old Tiffany, a dairy maid and expert cheese-maker, is the one landed with stopping her. Not so much because the Queen needs stopped, but because the Queen has taken Tiffany's little brother.

The relationships in this book are interesting; the key one is between Tiffany and her recently deceased grand-mother - a remote, forbidding figure who lived as a shepherd in the hills with her flock. Tiffany spends much of the book trying to come to terms with losing her Granny - and trying not to feel bad about how she'd feel if she lost her little brother. (Actually, I really enjoyed the fact that Tiffany doesn't rescue her little brother so much because she loves him, as because he's HERS.)

Luckily, Tiffany has help. A witch, Miss Tick, finds her but she's no help at all. Aside from giving Tiffany some quick lessons on what being a witch is not - in return for an egg and some carrots in a memorably funny scene involving itinerant scholars and much comparison with Another YA Fantasy Series - Miss Tick is off-stage looking for help. Miss Tick's not good on chalk. You can't grow a good witch on chalk.

Much more useful help comes in the form of the local Nac Mac Feegle clan, the Wee Free Men of the title. Rebels from Faery, a riotous clan of miniature, blue-skinned maniacs - 'pictsies' with a simple motto, "Nae king! Nae quin! Nae laird! Nae master! We willna' be fooled again!" The Nac Mac Feegle's have turned to Tiffany as the new witch for help now that her Granny has gone.

I doubt many Pratchett fans weren't going to read The Wee Free Men, and would need little encouragement to overlook the YA label, but for those who remain unconvinced by Discworld, and find the first few novels off-putting (well, they are quite lacklustre), this might be good stand-alone introduction.

Posted: Sun - June 8, 2003 at 11:56 PM