Saturday, April 12, 2008

Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett [Review]

[Once Upon A Time II - fantasy novel]


Terry Pratchett (official site and Wikipedia entry. If you're in a fun mood, visit the Boffo Oracle. It has a certain relevance to the story.)

2006, Harper Tempest, an imprint of HarperCollins, 0-06-089031-2

323 pages

Fantasy/Young Adult

Tiffany Aching has quite enough to occupy her time. Working hard with the witch, Miss Treason, she really hasn't any spare time to give over to romance. But despite specific instructions from Miss Treason, Tiffany inadvertently inserts herself into the Dance That Never Ends between Winter and Summer. This misbehavior upsets the balance of the universe in a variety of ways (identical snowflakes, poorly placed icebergs, etc.). Now she has to extricate herself and protect those around her from the consequences of her unthinking act. She has help (of a sort) from the the tribe of Nac Mac Feegles, but, honestly, that kind of help can be more of a distraction. Tiffany has to grow into her role as a witch but her encounter with elementals is an education in everything from public relations to full-blown mythology. Wintersmith is a comic fantasy written for young adults and Pratchett makes his point to that audience without ever being pompous or didactic. Some of the jokes are best understood if one has a modicum of familiarity with myth and folklore, but the novel is light-hearted and straight-forward overall. Pratchett's writing style is very simple and easy to comprehend. The book is neither high fantasy nor high literature, but I could see where this might be one of those books very fondly recalled by adolescent readers years down the road.

Extract: What stopped this was the habit of visiting. Witches visited other witches all the time, sometimes travelng quite a long way for a cup of tea and a bun. Partly this was for gossip of course, because witches love gossip, especially if its more exciting than truthful. But mostly it was to keep an eye on one another.

Today Tiffany was visiting Granny Weatherwax, who was in the opinion of most witches (including Granny herself) the most powerful witch in the mountains. It was all very polite. No one said "Not gone bats then?" or "Certainly, not. I'm as sharp as a spoon." They didn't need to. They understood what it was all about, so they talked of other things. But when she was in a mood, Granny Weatherwax could be hard work. (page 108)

Feedback: This was a light and amusing read. I snickered at some points in the story and at other points, I would pause and admire the cleverness of the author in terms of delivery of a line or plot point. If asked, I would certainly recommend that this book be included in library collections serving youthful populations.

That said, I also feel compelled to note that I wasn't particularly engaged by this book. It was fun. It had a point without being didactic. There was a good deal of wisdom to it. But I was never fully carried away by the tale. I think the slight cartoon-ishness (not to mention the pseudo-Scottish dialect) of the Nac Mac Feegles and some of the characterization of the witches interfered with my enjoyment. I am well aware that there is a difference between comic fantasy and high fantasy. Both have their own ways of communicating life's truths. Maybe it is just my own personal idiosyncratic taste, but I always tend to prefer the high fantasy form for my reading. (Note: That last sentence may be code for "I'm having one of my pompous days".)