Possible mild spoilers for earlier Discworld books, the Witches ones in particular and the previous novel.
Welcome back to the Discworld project! So once again I had a brain that was a wee bit melted from work, life, a weekend without electricity or running water (please don’t ask) and some other factors. Stressed, as you would be, I turned to Discworld. But not to the next book in the main series (Soul Music), I went back to the Chalk and Tiffany Aching.
A real witch never casually steps out of her body, leaving it empty. Eleven-year-old Tiffany does. And there’s something just waiting for a handy body to take over. Something ancient and horrible, which can’t die . . .
Wise, witty and wonderful, A Hat Full of Sky is Terry Pratchett’s second novel about Tiffany and the Wee Free Men – the rowdiest, toughest, smelliest bunch of fairies ever. They’ll fight anything. And even they might not be enough to save Tiffany . .
Another absolute joy this book, like the previous one, that absolutely broke my heart and reformed it more whole. This book sees Tiffany, now 11, being taken away from her Nac Mac Feegles, her cheese making and the Chalk itself. So fish (or witch, rather) out of water, off to train as a witch with another witch named Miss Level. Tiffany as a character is a very self assured young girl, even more so after winning against the Queen of the Fairies armed with only her wits and a frying pan. She’s a serious girl, intelligent beyond her years. But for the first time she is leaving her land, her chalk and she begins to have the one thing she never did. Doubt.
Terry Pratchett poured so much honestly and heart into the Discworld, and I often forget that this is at the end of the day a comedic fantasy series. But the level of care taken with Tiffany always strikes a cord with me. Living with Miss Level, a highly interesting witch herself, she meets other young withches at a meeting and is confronted with that age old “I was the best at home but here I’m just another one”. Tiffany doesn’t wear black, she has no visible witches hat and she can’t even make a shamble. The shamble making becoming a particular source of anxiety for her.
As the story progresses and the danger to Tiffany, in the guise this time of something much more ancient and non corporeal compared to the Queen of the Fairies, she is aided by a familiar favourite. Honestly the appearance of Granny Weatherwax made this book for me. She’s mentioned a lot over the novel, mostly by the younger witches who have different ideas about magic to Granny. When she eventually shows, the moments between the pair are honestly my favourite parts. Especially when the ever elusive shamble turns out to be something even Esme Weatherwax, the witch with the highest respect, can’t do.
I want to talk about some of the more serious topics of this book as well. As mentioned, these are written with younger readers in mind but it doesn’t stop handling some of the heavier tasks of the witches either. Witches in the Discworld tend to be a practical, vital presence for many villages and towns. All the while not being as respected as wizards, and in some places, are hunted out. Miss Tick, the witch who originally discovered Tiffany, keeps her hat as a collapsible contraption so she can blend in, also learned to swim in case she is flung into a pond. But at the heart of it, Tiffany is introduced to the tasks of tending to the elderly, the infirm, women encountering domestic abuse, difficult births and of course, death. Summed up by Miss Level herself;
‘You can’t not help people just because they’re stupid or forgetful or unpleasant. Everyone’s poor around here. If I don’t help them, who will?’
And better again, Tiffany’s response to this? Describing her grandmother she says;
‘Granny Aching…that is, my grandmother said someone has to speak up for them as has no voices,’
The only real thing I wasn’t taking much notice of was the plot. The antagonist does become very real very suddenly at one of Tiffany’s moments of weakness and it is handled very well but I do feel it was there to give the story some stakes like the last time. The focus of this book to me was far more about Tiffany and her next steps to becoming a witch and I honestly wouldn’t have cared if that just was the plot. But I do see the need to add these larger threats, not only to raise the stakes but to show how small yet powerful Tiffany can be. Which we still love to see! But it was just a bit thinner than the character interactions.
I should be back with Soul Music next, though who knows. I am fresh off a week of working late and I’m heading into a 7 day stretch (halp) so I might just let my brain take me where it wants to next. Thank you so much to anyone still following my Discworld journey. Two years on! And we have 18 books covered on the blog already. Do tell me if you read this one below and happy reading!