Book Review: Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett
Tiffany Aching is a witch in training. She in some ways is already a very powerful witch, and has endured some hard lessons that required growing up fast. But she’s also very much a girl who’s almost thirteen. Miss Treason, on the other hand, is over a century old and has not been a “girl” in a very long time. So when she tells Tiffany not to move during a dance, it doesn’t occur to her to explain what the dance is or why moving during it is a bad idea. Tiffany senses a spot in the dance that seems to be shaped for her, and her feet dance her right in.
That was a huge mistake, as the dance is the change of seasons. And now the Wintersmith, the personification of winter, has become fascinated by Tiffany. He sees her as the Summer Lady somehow in his time, and wants to hold her forever. And if Tiffany doesn’t make it to spring, then spring will never come…..
This is the third Tiffany Aching book within the Discworld setting; the first book in the sequence is The Wee Free Men. Tiffany is a farm girl who grew up in sheep-herding country called The Chalk. She’s very practical and straightforward, which serves her well in witchcraft. (In the Discworld setting, witchcraft, while it certainly includes a heaping of magic, is more about being a “wise woman” who provides skills and knowledge to a rural area.) On the other hand, she is very young and has many things to learn, and sometimes Tiffany will get her back up and turn stubborn at the wrong moment.
Tiffany is aided as always by the Nac Mac Feegles, tiny blue men that combine the more disturbing aspects of Smurfs with the more violent aspects of highland Scotsmen stereotypes. They have their own special dialect, and there’s a glossary at the front that also helps readers and parents know what they’re in for with the Feegles. The tiny men provide much of the comic relief in the book, and are usually annoyances, but they are helpful when pointed in the right direction.
As well, Tiffany interacts with the community of witches, from the fearsome Miss Treason who has mastered the art of Boffo, through the harsh but highly competent Granny Weatherwax and jolly Nanny Ogg to the vain and in way over her head Annagramma. Each of them has lessons to teach Tiffany (yes, even Annagramma has her uses) and help her on the way in her Story.
And Roland, the baron’s son, Tiffany’s friend who is a boy, comes into play as he has his own problems, but sets them aside for the time being to be the Hero that the Story needs at a crisis point. His highly unpleasant aunts sound like they will be an issue in the next volume.
The Wintersmith, of course, is the antagonist of the book. As the anthropomorphic personification of the idea of winter, it isn’t evil. But Tiffany’s mistake has thrown the Wintersmith out of balance, and unbalanced winter is highly dangerous. Worse, it’s trying to make itself more human without understanding what that means or caring about the effects it has on others. It chillingly (pun intended) follows a children’s rhyme about what “makes a man” until it gets to the most important ingredients and just skips those. It’s both funny and scary when the Wintersmith tells random people “I am a human being.”
A nice twist of the book is that it starts with a version of the final showdown between Tiffany and the Wintersmith, then rewinds the story, reminding the reader “the future is always a bit wobbly.” When we reach the ending again, things are somewhat different.
This is listed as a “Young Adult” book but should be fine for precocious middle-schoolers on up. Some parents may be disturbed by references to sex and childbirth (no gory details), but it makes sense in setting; Tiffany’s a farm girl with older sisters in a society that doesn’t shy away from those topics. But the important thing here is relationships and learning how to say “no” to ones that are not a good idea. Younger readers should probably start with the first Tiffany Aching book.
Recommended to fantasy fans, young readers and fans of practical, straightforward women.