Originally posted 01/23/11 in my meta/review blog
In I Shall Wear Midnight, Tiffany Aching is beginning her career as the witch of the Chalk, the region where she grew up. Acting as a kind of general purpose medic and social worker, she finds herself doing all the jobs that people do not think of doing, like cutting the toe nails of an old woman with arthritis when she cannot do it herself. (People had thought to feed the old woman, and help her in other ways, but it had apparently not occurred to anyone that an old arthritic woman might have trouble clipping her nails.) This is a lot of work for one girl to do, but she’s helped (or at least, not quite as hindered) in her duties by her friends the Nac Mac Feegles.
Her career takes an unpleasant turn when a few accidents and mistakes on her part cause a certain amount of suspicion and mistrust. It becomes even more unpleasant after the death of the old Baron. Tiffany is accused of stealing money, and doing various other “wicked witch” things. It is eventually revealed that the animosity is the result of the malevolent spirit of a witchfinder. (Who is referred to as the Cunning Man.) With the older generation of witches on hand to observe, Tiffany has to figure out how to defeat the witchfinder.
This book has some very dark moments. The beginning features Tiffany attempting to handle a case involving a drunken, abusive father who has just beaten his daughter into a miscarriage. (One of the reasons she gets in trouble is because she leaves the daughter with the Feegles, because the kelda is better at some kinds of healing than she is. Of course, the people in the village panic and think the worst.) Tiffany’s other attempts to help the family just leads to more misunderstandings, and eventually lead her to being imprisoned by the Baron’s son, who seems very much under the spell of the Cunning Man.
With the help of the only female wizard, Tiffany is eventually able to figure out how to defeat the Cunning Man, and acquires a few unexpected allies along the way. There’s also a hint of romance as she develops a relationship with one of the Baron’s armsmen. (A young man who it turns out is the world’s worst soldier, but has the potential to be a Very Good Doctor.)
Despite the dark moments, they do not really take anything away from the sly humor that is always present in Terry Pratchett’s works. I do think that this book might be better for older teens than younger children (says the hypocrite). I liked this book a lot, especially finding out what happened to Eskarina Smith from Equal Rites. (I wish that we had been able to see her before in other books though.)