Terry Pratchett began his series of Discworld stories for younger readers in 2003, with the marvelous Wee Free Men. There he introduced Tiffany Aching, shepherd’s daughter and witch-in-training. Her adventures continued in A Hat Full of Sky (2004), likewise excellent. These books are technically juveniles — the publisher recommends them for 6th grade and up — but they are as good or better than Pratchett’s adult novels. They are full of beauty and wisdom. They are hilariously funny. They have the characteristic Pratchett sense of justice, honor and wonder. Wintersmith is the third entry in Tiffany’s saga: and it is grand.
Tiffany Aching is a heroine in the Dorothy Gale mode — practical, sturdy, competent, and as fascinating a heroine as ever made a perfect blue cheese. Cheeses and witchery are what she is best at, and she takes both talents to unexpected heights in Wintersmith.
Tiffany is entering her teens now, and the world is getting strange and frustrating; farm girl that she is, she has no illusions about the Facts of Life. But her own mind and body seem to be working to someone else’s orders, and the behavior of the Baron’s son, Roland, is getting odder all the time.
The strictures of the elder witches chafe, as well. Sent out to observe the Dark Morris — that dance wherein Summer and Winter reach balance every year, meeting for the brief moment when they trade places — Tiffany forgets her observer status and leaps into the center of the dance. In doing so, she briefly fills the woman-shaped place of Summer in Winter’s vision, and the Wintersmith, the embodiment and soul and architect of winter, falls in love with Tiffany.
The implications of this infatuation are initially rather charming. The Wintersmith sends snowflakes all crafted as miniature Tiffanies, and enormous iceberg statues of her appear in the Circle Sea. But the Wintersmith is implacable and relentless, and the gifts don’t stop. Glittering confetti portraits are all very well, but not when they reach 10-foot drifts. Icebergs sink ships. And since her suitor follows her wherever she goes, Tiffany inevitably leads him back to her beloved Chalk downs, where the unending ardor of Winter threatens to bury her home and family forever. Pratchett displays his characteristic honesty in taking the obsessive courtship to its logical extreme, and Tiffany is shortly in deep, cold trouble.
She has allies, of course, but their aid is problematical. Miss Treason, Tiffany’s current teacher, is a splendid character, wise and sensible, and she has vital information to teach Tiffany about the showmanship of witchery. Unfortunately, she dies — on schedule, per her own prediction, and with impeccable style; so she’s not too much help after that. The Nac Mac Feegle, the wee free men of the first book, are desperately searching for a Hero to save her: unfortunately, they settle on Roland, the Baron’s son. Her own generation of young witches is growing up as well, and has both advice and skills to help her — if she can get them interested in her dilemma. And the formidable Granny Weatherwax, who plays a much larger role in this story than in the previous two, arrives to sort things out. Or so Tiffany hopes; but it seems Granny has come to sort Tiffany out, and then leave her to solve her problems on her own. The blend of pratfall comedy and grim reality is classic Pratchett.
Terry Pratchett’s skill at combining the real and the fantastic has never been better than in this book. Tiffany’s struggles with her chores and studies result in a blue cheese attaining mobility and a sort of feral intelligence, and finally running off to join the Nac Mac Feegle (an alliance made in Pandemonia, if not actually Hell). As Tiffany is associated more and more with the image of Summer, she begins to display the attributes of that goddess — grass springs up green and fresh where she walks, fruit ripens as she passes. Ripe fruit in Winter is nice, but the real Summer is not pleased with Tiffany’s usurpation of her place.
Despite the real dangers and grief in the story, despite the antics of the Feegles, despite the snotty arrogance of the teen-aged witches, the story has a genuinely romantic ending. It’s not a tinsel and prom-dress romance, but the deep, ancient, magical romance of the real world; where Tiffany steps through the first door into an adulthood of power and beauty. There is sacrifice, reward and redemption. What should sleep, sinks back to rest; what should thrive, lives and blossoms.
Wintersmith is a wonderful book, and I advise all adult fans of Pratchett to get it and read it. Give it to your children to read. Better yet, read it with your children. This is a story you can all happily share.