Friday, 10 December 2010

I Shall Wear Midnight - Terry Pratchett

I was apprehensive about this. Wintersmith seemed to me to be a weak book – a novella trying to be a novel by padding out the Feegles. Happily, this one seems to be back on form (and it has a hare). There are few surprises as the plot unfolds, Pratchett relies on ideas he has used before, but he is the kind of author who does not need to worry about this (although too much information in the cover illustration could spoil it for others).

Tiffany Aching is growing up and faces yet another world shattering challenge. And wins. Of course. Which makes it all sound terribly dull. Far from it. Because this is a study of character. The setting is familiar both to Discworld fans and to readers new to his work. It is a small community. It may be quasi-medieval and rural, but the fact is most of us still live like that anyway, even in big cities in so-called democracies.

Nor is it just about an individual growing up, but that community. Because this book tackles terrorism and the ways in which it can be defeated. Unfortunately, this is a fantasy novel and the sensible approach to terror suggested is not played out in the real world where force and suppression make governments every bit as thuggish as the terrorist groups they spawned and now profess to oppose.

Tiffany knows that one answer is education. Open, unfettered, in which pupils are given the tools to think for themselves – sadly ironic at a time when in the UK education has become all about rote learning at a level sufficient to produce what was once called factory fodder. Except we no longer have factories. We no longer make. We no longer rely on ourselves and our immediate communities.

Or at least that’s how I read it. In other regards it is standard Pratchett fare. That is to say, superbly well written, superbly well constructed, humorous and serious in perfect balance, containing very real characters, and offering a wise insight into the world for which we should all be thankful.