February 20, 2024 11:23 AM - Subscribe

Oh, to be on the cusp of thirteen, with all the attendant emotions swirling around that you can't quite comprehend yet, going to a dance for the first time and locking eyes with some handsome young beau... Of course, there's always the chance that the young man in question will develop an unhealthy fixation on you afterwards. And if you're a young witch-in-training, like for instance Tiffany Aching, that young man might also be the personification of Winter, and have a little trouble understanding rejection... (Tiffany Aching #3, Discworld #35) By Terry Pratchett.

Hello again, as we work to finish up the Discworld Book Club! We're continuing our way through, filling in the last remaining gaps (not much left now!)

The Color of Magic
The Light Fantastic
Equal Rites
Wyrd Sisters
Guards! Guards!
Moving Pictures
Reaper Man
Witches Abroad
Small Gods
Lords and Ladies
Men At Arms
Soul Music
Interesting Times
Feet of Clay
The Last Continent
Carpe Jugulum
The Fifth Elephant
The Truth
Thief of Time
The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents
Night Watch
The Wee Free Men
Monstrous Regiment
A Hat Full of Sky
Going Postal
Making Money
The Shepherd's Crown

Our next book will be Unseen Academicals.


There is a dance, known in parts of both Discworld and Roundworld, called a Morris Dance. It is traditionally performed in May, by men and women dressed in white and adorned with bells, to signal the ushering in of the Summer. It is traditionally performed near pubs, because otherwise it might never be performed at all.

And there is a lesser-known counterpart dance, the Dark Morris, performed to greet the long nights and bitter snows of the Winter. It is to this ceremony that Miss Treason - a nearly mythical witch of the mountains, 113 years old*, with a clockwork heart** and a demon living in her cellar*** - takes her apprentice Tiffany Aching, nearly Thirteen for months now, and possibly a bit too sharp for her own good.

And against Miss Treason's orders, as she feels the beat of the music move her, Tiffany joins in the dance, fluidly filling in the gaps between dancers, and meeting eyes with the Wintersmith himself. And that's when the snowflakes start to look alike - because they all look like Tiffany. That's when roses start to appear in Miss Treason's garden - delicate roses made of ice that dissolve at dawn. That's when Tiffany's name appears written in the frost of the windows and icebergs modeled after her begin to wreck ships at sea. Its when the snows refuse to let up, and the lambs start dying.

As if Tiffany didn't already have enough to get on with. Her rounds with Miss Treason already take up all of her time, she's worried about her family back on the Chalk, and there is of course the correspondence with Roland, the Baron's son who once gave her that silver necklace of the White Horse, the one non-practical thing that Tiffany owns and which the Wintersmith is now using to track her down.

And then, of course, Miss Treason has to up and die - and be cheerful about it! - thrusting Tiffany into Granny Weatherwax's political maneuvering, and sending Tiffany off to apprentice to the prying Nanny Ogg, for whom no question has ever been inappropriate, and Miss Treason's cottage goes to Annagramma Hawkin, who has seniority among the young mountain Witches but no clue what she's doing, so Tiffany has to get all the other young witches to prop her up, and now Roland is writing letters about dancing with some other girl? And looking at her watercolors?!

And yes, while it's obviously not good that the Winter itself is obsessed with her, it'd be nice if anybody else would at least recognize how cool it is, right? I mean, he's mistaken her for the Summer Lady! And it's taking, a little bit! Plants grow where she walks! She has a Cornucopia now! This deserves at least a little bit of respect!

But witching ain't about respect, unfortunately. Or, well, it is. It absolutely is, in fact. But you've got to earn that respect, through deeds, fear, and a little bit of Boffo where called for, but mostly through experience. And Tiffany Aching is about to get the experience of her young lifetime...

*or thereabouts, anyway
**or so say the folks in her steading
***or maybe just a particularly lively Lancre Blue Cheese
posted by Navelgazer (5 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
For my money, if you're going to take Tiffany Aching on a teenage-hormones story, this is the way to do it. She is, down to her bones, a very practical character, but that doesn't mean she's unfeeling, and this book finds great humor and pathos in that balancing act. Her being flattered by the attention of the Wintersmith (without ever out-and-out admitting it, of course) and frustrated that nobody else seems to care, or at least appreciate that it must mean that she's something special, is exactly right. Not that she's into the Wintersmith - her heart belongs to Roland inasmuch as it belongs to anybody, which isn't all that much anyway - but it's nice to be wanted.

And while I didn't mention the Nac Mac Feegle in the recap above, their journey to get her the bodice-ripper novel for her own educational purposes is a great use of them, and almost as funny as the scene of Tiffany reading the bodice ripper, unsurprised by the details of the dirty bits (having grown up on a farm with a load of older sisters, afterall) but objecting to the books lack of understanding of shepherding. (Like not understanding what the men would see in the slender and frail heroine who couldn't even be expected to carry a lamb around.)

And getting more of Roland, and understanding his current state of affairs to be less-than-ideal, is a nice touch. He seems to be growing up nicely, despite the intentions of his horrid aunts.

It's also nice to get a good amount of Nanny Ogg, who never got as much attention from Pratchett as Granny Weatherwax did, but whose own kind of power has always been delightfully more subtle, even as her personality is as boisterous and unashamed as ever. She's the right mentor for this book, and probably the only one who could guide Tiffany through what it means to be both a Witch and a Romantic (well, aside from Magrat, but she's off Queening and raising a young daughter and her advice would probably just leave Tiffany more muddled off than before, to be honest.)

I like how much meaning is packed into the White Horse Necklace, and how Pratchett doesn't have to oversell it. Because there is magic in it, of a sort, no matter how much Granny refers to it as just a trinket. It hurts when she has to throw it into the Lancre gorge, and when she gets it back, it's thrilling for a moment before you remember why she had to throw it away to begin with.

All in all, a deeply romantic book that remembers all the confusion and terror that can come with that when your young, or even not so young.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:42 AM on February 20 [5 favorites]

I should try this one again. I found it such a letdown the first time around -- I just really, really did not want Tiffany in a teenage-hormones story, I didn't want her heart to belong even a little to Roland, all of it put me right off! But probably that was unfair of me and I'd like to think it holds up better than my original reaction to it would suggest.
posted by redfoxtail at 5:14 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]

redfoxtail: I can't say for sure, of course, but for me it all worked in service of her character (practical, responsible, the type of girl who knows more words from reading than she knows how to properly pronounce, etc.) rather than flattening her into some Bella Swan-type thing. It helps that her question isn't ever "this boy or that boy" but rather one of whether her future will have time and space for romance at all, and whether she really wants it to. (A question which, to my memory, the series never truly resolves.) That's something we've seen through the Witches books throughout Discworld, where even a young Esmerelda Weatherwax once had a coulda-been encounter with Mustrum Ridcully, though being Granny Weatherwax, once she shut that door she resolutely refused to look back.

And Tiffany isn't spending her time swooning here, either. She's too busy for that. That, to me, is the other key to this all working (when it really could have failed spectacularly.)
posted by Navelgazer at 7:19 PM on February 20 [4 favorites]

It’s been a while, but I remember the Cornucopia‘s chicken production as hilarious.

Tiffany is deeply human here, in stark contrast to the Wintersmith. She’s becoming, not finished. What is a witch made of? Iron enough, but much more too.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:33 PM on February 21 [2 favorites]

Ooh I just happened to drop by FanFare on a whim, and what do I find but a bunch of posts about my favourite books!

Wintersmith really shows Pratchett's skill as a master storyteller. I think its one of the only Discworld books that starts with a flash-forward, something that caught me off guard when I first started reading the book because he usually doesn't do stuff like that. But it worked really well, and the way everything wove together to the climax was perfect, and effortless. "Frost to fire..." those words still give me goosebumps.
posted by destrius at 8:43 AM on February 25 [2 favorites]

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