First things first, about this series. Discworld is a fantasy series set in a world with more magic than logic; it’s at the same time hilarious and incredibly deep, often both at the same time. The only problem is that the reading order is a complete mess, so good luck if you’re trying to figure out which book you can start with. As you can see from this very simple and linear reading order guide or this other fancier but still simple guide the books are unofficially grouped into smaller series based on the main characters, though nobody 100% agrees on where some of the books go. Personally I’m partial to the Witches (but start with Wyrd Sisters, because Equal Rites was one of the earlier books and not as good) and the Watch (Guards! Guards! is already good), but I will forever maintain the unpopular opinion that Monstrous Regiment is the best of them all and you can read it very well as a standalone. Or you could start reading from The Wee Free Men.
The Wee Free Men is #30 in publication order, but it’s also the first Tiffany Aching book, and it’s different than most other Discworld books because it’s aimed at young adults. When I first read the series I didn’t think much of this book and so I ended up skipping the other Tiffany books, but Tiffany is a witch and like I said I like the other witches, so I decided to give her a second chance. In this book Tiffany is not really a witch yet. She doesn’t even do much magic. Mostly she goes around armed with a large pan, because the Queen of the Elves has kidnapped her little brother and she wants him back. Not because she likes her little brother very much (I feel you Tiffany, I also don’t like snotty, crying children) but because, well, that’s what you’re supposed to do, right? And also how dare the Queen kidnap him, the Queen is very rude.
Tiffany is the protagonist, but the ones who get top billing (and the best part of the book, hands down) are the wee free men, aka the Nac Mac Feegle, a clan of pictsies. No, that’s not a misspelling, it’s just this thing that Pratchett does, he takes the idea of Picts and Pixies and so you get blue-tattooed warriors in kilt who are only a few inches tall, and it’s so ridiculous that it may just work. They’re loud and disorderly and fairly stupid, and have names like Rob Anybody and Daft Wullie and No’-As-Big-As-Medium-Sized-Jock-But-Bigger-than-Wee-Jock Jock. According to them, the Nac Mac Feegle rebelled against the wicked rule of the Queen and were therefore exiled from Fairyland. According to everyone else, they were kicked out for being drunk. Either way, they accompany Tiffany in her search for her brother, providing interesting dialogue and headbutting enemies.
If it sounds like a big bowl of nonsense, that’s because it is. Like I said, Discworld books don’t go in for logic. I did rate this 3 teacups, but that’s only because it’s not Pratchett’s best book. A 3-teacup Discworld book is as good as a 4-teacup or 5-teacup book by anyone else, in my opinion. I like Tiffany, she’s stubborn and thinks a lot and doesn’t like being patronized by adults because she’s already eleven. But I felt that the plot of the evil elves had already been done in another Discworld book, so it was all a bit predictable.
This is the second Tiffany Aching book, because like I said the reading order is weird and Discworld #31 was about other people. (Discworld #31 is Monstrous Regiment btw. Good stuff.) This time Tiffany is off to be an apprentice to another witch, though, this being the Discworld, witches are less about doing magic tricks and more about knowing that you only use magic as a last resort. (Doing actual magic is easy, otherwise wizards wouldn’t be able to do it.) But there’s another enemy lurking in the countryside, and this time it’s targeting Tiffany, but fortunately the Nac Mac Feegle are still around to help.
I liked this book more than The Wee Free Men, mostly because of the characters. I love Discworld witches because they’re, generally, competent women who live on their own and don’t take shit from anyone and deal with all sort of problems ranging from midwifery to monster attacks. Pratchett is good at defying stereotypes or at using them and turning them completely around, and all the witches in this book are interesting to read about. I particularly liked Miss Level, the witch Tiffany is apprenticed to who has, ah, an unusual problem. No spoilers, because I was greatly amused when I reached that part in the book and I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but it was creative and ludicrous and pure Pratchett nonsense.
My problem was that, like with The Wee Free Men, there were many elements recycled from other books, such as the hive mind of bees, borrowing other creatures’ minds, the group of young witches who wear lots of occult jewelry and think they’re better than their elders, and so on. There wasn’t anything that struck out as really memorable. Plus, I felt sometimes that Pratchett was trying to take the easy way out with Tiffany, by having everyone say how special she is instead of letting her actions speak for herself. Granny Weatherwax is an established badass and she’s met a lot of extraordinary people in her life, so I don’t really get why she would think that Tiffany is so awesome.
Still, it was bloody good fun, and when I got to the part where the Nac Mac Feegle walked into a pub I suddenly remembered why it’s a terrible idea to read Discworld books in public because I started snickering uncontrollably and couldn’t stop for a good while. Crivens!