by Terry Pratchett
illustrated by Stephen Player
In this first book in the Tiffany Aching series, Pratchett packs it with his usual touches - unforgettable characters, out-of-the-world situations, romping adventure, brilliant wit, plus his inimitable humor and perspective on social issues.
The Illustrated Wee Free Men is quite a visual experience. Be it the full page pictures that sort of form the background for the text superimposed on it, or the wee little Feegles hanging precariously off a letter or quietly trying to make off with one along the edges, or the shadows and typography lending the ambiance, the illustrations complement the text superbly, neither interfering nor distracting but in perfect harmony with the images the words manage to paint in our heads.
Tiffany Aching of the Chalk is all of 9 years old, but very practical and efficient at carrying out her duties, blessed with keen observation and strong intuition, not to mention her cheese-making talents, who never misses an opportunity to do some extra learning on the side whenever she can spare the extra carrot or the egg - the fee for gaining knowledge from traveling teachers.
A girl cannot know enough, especially if she is a witch. She is not thrilled about babysitting her little brother Wentworth as much as she has to, but, she does it nonetheless. "He's a nuisance! He takes up my time and I'm always having to look after him and he always wants sweets."
But when her brother is stolen, she will not say Good Riddance and get on with her life. No. She will go to the end of the world, into the dream world, muster all the strength, determination, knowledge and courage she can to bring him back home safely.
Thankfully for Tiffany, she doesn't have to do it alone. The 6-inch tall, blue-skinned, red-haired, kilt-wearing, Scots speaking Nac Mac Feegles always keep an eye out for her, their Wee Big Hag.
"Crivens! Gang awa' oot o' here, ye daft wee hinny! 'Ware the green heid!... Nae time for fishin'!"
With Rob Anybody, their Big Man o' the clan, Daft Wullie, William the gonnagle, Hamish the aviator and a lot more weird ones, the Feegles are easily the at-once-simple-yet-richly-complex characters encountered in Pratchett's menagerie. They are pictsies (not pixies, oh no) full of vigor and the fighting spirit, as well as the alcoholic spirits which they imbibe in copious amounts whenever they can, stealing anything not nailed down, tending to scream 'Crivens!' and 'Oh Waily! Waily! Waily!' a lot, fiercely protective of Tiffany yet terrified of her wrath, jumping headlong into unknown situations and coming out fine in the end... if we end up loving them in the end knowing what a nuisance they can be it is thanks to Pratchett.
What can I say about Granny Aching? Well, other than what the story reveals, of course? Almost all the matronly women authority figures in Pratchett's books are awesome, some more authoritarian while others rather quietly compelling. Granny Weatherwax is an all-time favorite of mine, but close on her heels is Nanny Ogg, and now the no-longer-with-us Granny Aching, Tiffany's grandma.
It is quite a wild ride when Tiffany sets out into the dream world where Wentworth is trapped. She not only manages to get back Wentworth but also rescue the Baron's son Roland who was decomposing there unbeknownst to him.
All's well that ends well. It is indeed something when one finishes the book but the books is not finished with one. I caught myself going back to it, flipping to favorite pages and relishing the experience. Of course, I do that with all of Pratchett's books.
Although it is a suggested Young Adult novel, the book is a wonderful read for older readers. This is another of Pratchett's books that I would love to have on my bookshelf to pass on to my kids when they are ready for it.
[image source: amazon.com]