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Monday, January 18, 2016

Small blue protectors, a lovesick embodiment of winter, a plucky heroine -- it all adds up to a honking good novel!

Pratchett, Terry (2006) Wintersmith  New York:  Harpercollins

Opening lines:  When the storm came, it hit the hills like a hammer.  No sky should hold as much snow as this, and because no sky could, the snow feel, fell in a wall of white.

The things that made me the most sad when Terry Pratchett died last year at the age of 67 is that he won't write any more Tiffany Aching adventures.  I met Tiffany in the pages of The Wee Free Men which my friend Kris loaned to me.  In that book, Tiffany, a poor girl living in the chalk hills, takes up the mantle of her grandmother, becomes a witch, and protects her impoverished village from an ancient evil.  She does so aided by the Feegles, an army of wee blue Irish guys whose loyalty and thick heads help her out of a scrape more than once.

In Wintersmith, Tiffany stumbles into what she thinks is some kind of joyous celebration in the woods, but is actually the magical dance between the embodiment of Summer and the embodiment of winter,  Tiffany finds the music so infectious that she joins in the dance and accidentally takes the position of Summer.  Next thing she knows, she is dancing with the Wintersmith, and when the dance is over and she returns to her normal life, she finds that the Wintersmith is in love with her and that this is going to cause some huge snow-covered problems in her life.

The plot is a good one, but what makes the book wonderful is the combination of Pratchett's writing style and sense of humor. He is not afraid to let his characters wander into tangents for a while if they are funny and wonderful.  For example, on page 179, well into the story, when things are getting desperate indeed, we come upon this passage, "Deep in the snow, in the middle of a windswept moorland, a small band of travelling librarian sat around their cooling stove and wondered what to burn next... The librarians were mysterious.  It was said that they could tell what book you needed just by looking at you, and they could take your voice away with a word."  It turns out that they have burnt all of their furniture and much of their wagon, but will not consider burning the books.

Or later, when Tiffany's mentor dies and she is trying to clear the cottage before the funeral, she is visited by Anoia, Goddess of Things that Get Stuck in Drawers.  There are moments like this scattered through the book.  It is the sort of book that tempts you to read parts of it aloud to your friends and family, though, of course, since they haven't read the book, it doesn't seem nearly as funny to them as it actually is.

So anyway, it is a delightfully funny and gripping book and I loved it.  I cannot say for sure if you will, but I think it not unlikely.  It would be best for strong middle school readers, or better still for high school readers.  There is nothing particularly offensive about the book except that it does talk about witches (though in this book, they seem to be more village wise women and healers than they do evil, twisted servants of darkness -- but readers who do not wish to read about witches good or bad should probably avoid this one.

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