Corgi Children's, 2004 (2003)
Nine-year-old Tiffany Aching thinks her Granny Aching -- a wise shepherd -- might have been a witch, but now Granny Aching is dead and it’s up to Tiffany to work it all out when strange things begin happening. There’s a fairy-tale monster in the stream, a headless horseman and, strangest of all, the tiny blue men in kilts, the Wee Free Men, who have come looking for the new “hag”. These are the Nac Mac Feegles, the pictsies, who like nothing better than thievin’ , fightin’ and drinkin’. When Tiffany’s young brother goes missing, Tiffany and the Wee Free Men must join forces to save him from the Queen of the Fairies.
Miss Tick can sense there's a witch around - but surely not on The Chalk. No witch ever came from chalk. Except here's young Tiffany Aching, sporting a distinctly un-witch-like name and yet fighting off monsters with only a frying pan (and her little brother as bait). So maybe a witch can come from chalk after all. And if anyone was going to be a witch, then maybe the granddaughter of Granny Aching - shepherd, grandmother, and all around formidable woman with a penchant for Jolly Sailor tobacco - is the one to do it.
The Wee Free Men is a young adult Discworld novel. It reminded me of the previous (and first) Discworld book I read, Equal Rites, which features another unlikely girl with unlikely powers (in that case Esk, who against all gender expectations becomes a wizard). Here, Tiffany is resigned to a life of making cheese and being annoyed by her little brother, until she starts to display some equally unexpected powers, drawing the attention of both Miss Tick and the Wee Free Men, or Nag Mac Feegle, a band of pictsies who love nothing better than a good brawl and a lot of whiskey. When Tiff's little brother is taken by the evil Queen, she enlists the help of the Wee Free Men, disappearing into an alternate world of dreams, nightmares and wonky fairytale creatures in order to rescue him.
This book is clever and funny, and manages to be gloriously silly whilst making absolute sense all at the same time. The no-nonsense witches, although they don't appear throughout, were my favourite characters. Witches on the Discworld don't draw attention to themselves, but rather go about their business in a sensible fashion, making sure their pointy hats are invisible if necessary. Tiffany is a great heroine - daring and resolute and not about to ignore her brother's plight just because he's fantastically irritating and only thinks about sweets. Faced with the prospect of having to marry one of the Wee Free Men in order to become kelda of their clan, a bit of quick thinking gets her out of that particular jam, and it was nice to read about a girl being messy and resourceful and heroic in that way that Pratchett, from my limited exposure to him, seems to do very well. The subplot, involving Tiffany and her grandmother, was also a nice touch.
This is a great introduction to the Discworld, and a quick, funny read (with plenty of jokes and puns that would probably pass younger readers by). I would have liked more of the witches, and against the pace of the book I was sometimes eager for more explanation of some things. However, I was lent the book as an introduction to Pratchett, and it didn't disappoint.
Overall rating: 6.5/10
Book source: Borrowed from my friend's dad.