I Shall Wear Midnight
February 22, 2024 7:48 PM - Subscribe

Well, it's the Chalk's annual Summer festival, and Tiffany Aching has no one to kiss, as her erstwhile beau Roland is now engaged to Leticia Keepsake, daughter of the Duchess. Not that it really matters, as Tiffany is busy enough with making the rounds, burying bodies, stopping lynch mobs, tending to the dying Baron, being accused of the Baron's murder, flying back and forth to Ankh-Morpork to find the heir, escaping from the castle dungeons, guiding two very different young untrained witches, and battling a foul-smelling demonic ghost that is turning the whole disc suddenly and viciously against her... (Tiffany Aching #4, Discworld #38) By Terry Pratchett.

Welcome to the (I believe) penultimate entry in the Discworld Book Club! Only one more to go!

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
Unseen Academicals
The Shepherd's Crown

Our next, and final, installment will be Raising Steam!


"You look awful!"

Tiffany Aching is hearing that a lot these days, just one of many expressions of concern from those who care most about her, in part because there seem to be so, so many people nowadays who don't care for her. Or witches in general, really. But particularly her.

And if Tiffany isn't looking well lately, it's hard to exactly blame her: she's barely finding time to eat or sleep, and her chosen profession is such that tending to a young girl whose drunken father just beat her so badly that she lost her pregnancy, and then saving that reprehensible father from the "rough music" rising up in the town to exact mob justice on him, is all in a day's work.

Of course, no good deed goes unpunished. The parents of the girl in question start to raise a stink about Tiffany's supposed meddling. At the castle, Tiffany pays a final visit to the Baron, easing his pain while he finally passes, and a snooping nurse (with decidedly anti-witch leanings) paints the Baron's death as Tiffany's doing. She flies off to Ankh-Morpork to track down Roland, the Baron's son, to inform him of the news, but finds a very chilly welcome from her former kinda-sorta boyfriend and his new fiancée and future mother-in-law, The Duchess.

Tiffany is getting that kind of reception basically everywhere she goes, though, and it seems to be courtesy of The Cunning Man, the restless and relentless ghost of a 1000-year-old Omnian Witchfinder, with no eyes, a stench worse than death, and the ability to spread hate, fear, and paranoia wherever he finds fertile minds for it.

Of course, Tiffany will always have her family, and the Nac Mac Feegles, but she's going to need all the friends she can find in these trying times. Like Preston, the young castle guard who's way too smart to be a castle guard and also not particularly good at guarding the castle. Or Leticia, Roland's new fiancée who has some big surprises hidden behind her constant crying. Or Eskarina Smith, the legendary witch who was the only woman ever to be admitted to Unseen University.

There's a lot to be getting on with. For Tiffany Aching, there's always a lot to be getting on with, but this is a particular period of trial by fire. Thankfully, she knows that the Hare rushes into the fire...
posted by Navelgazer (3 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have just so much to say about this one, and I'll need to compose my thoughts a bit more before I can really say what I want, but this is my favorite of the Tiffany Aching books, and one of my very favorites of Discworld in its entirety. The darkness in it is suffocating at times - the "Rough Music" chapter in particular is remarkably dark for something positioned as a YA novel, as is the general sexual frankness throughout, and the pitch of the horror Pratchett evokes surrounding the Cunning Man. But that also makes the brightness shine out all the more, like with Preston and his seemingly indefatigable spirit, or Tiffany realizing that maybe she doesn't really hate Leticia after all.

It feels very much like a book that Pratchett wrote knowing that it might be his send-off for the character, and it serves her well in that regard, though of course we know now that The Shepherd's Crown would be the actual Swan Song for both Tiffany and the series as a whole. And that's a fine finale, but I think this one accomplishes much more as a book and a story well-told. It has some structural weirdness (thinking specifically of Tiffany's future self setting up a few things in the second-to-last chapter to be paid off in... the last chapter) but it's just such a gorgeous, enveloping ride. It's a tough ride (I think only Monstrous Regiment can even compare to it for tonal darkness in Discworld. Maybe Night Watch) but it's a deeply engrossing one, and one which I think cements Tiffany's place on the Mount Rushmore of Pratchett characters.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:09 PM on February 22 [9 favorites]

When it comes to the Discworld witches, I think about this book a lot. The rough music -- the poor girl and her ill-matched parents ... it was a remarkably compassionate portrait of all three of them, considering the circumstances, and especially considering that this is a book for younger readers.

I read that the death of the Baron drew directly from Pratchett's experience of his own father and his death. I've since thought of it when loved ones passed.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:09 AM on February 26 [1 favorite]

The Baron's death is such a lovely scene, such a gentle and humane way of depicting death (even in Discworld, where Death Himself is so humane that it causes problems for the Auditors), bookended of course by the Nurse being awful. But, of course, it's also telling that Tiffany is still inexperienced in many ways, and doesn't know how to handle the Nurse (who likely was under tha thrall of Leticia's spell in any case, but also, Tiffany was snapping at her in ways designed to sting - Granny Weatherwax is as steely as steel itself but she would have known better than to intentionally piss off the Nurse in that manner, I think.)

I remembered this book straight-up starting with the Rough Music chapter, which it almost does, but at least we get a little time to see the Chalk being a festive, enjoyable steading for Tiffany to call home before everything goes to shit for a while. And while, yeah, it just bugs me that Tiffany's visit from her future self happens so late as to be inert as a set-up for the things that happen in literally the next chapter, that final exchange between Tiffany and Preston is one of the most lovely things Pratchett every put to paper, and that is well set-up enough for me to forgive whatever else.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:00 PM on March 6

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