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Pratchett, Terry: Wintersmith

With a new book, I tend to read and then re-read, immediately. Wintersmith improved with the second reading. I had wanted to dismiss it as another pale imitation of the first Tiffany Aching book, the wonderful Wee Free Men ("Ach, crivens!"), but on the re-read, it revealed its own rewards. It's better than A Hat Full of Sky (the first sequel), IMO.

Tiffany is now 13, and has started yet another apprenticeship with yet another eccentric witch. At the end of one extremely hectic day with her new mistress, she makes the mistake of actively participating in a ritual that she was meant only to observe. The result is another of Pratchett's explorations of the nature of the divine, and what happens when it comes into contact with the mudane and the mortal. And Tiffany remains Tiffany throughout and at the end, which is not a trivial consideration.

The ritual that Tiffany enters is the dancing of the Dark Morris, meant to welcome Winter - personified by the Wintersmith - in the same way that the classic May Day Morris (both in our world and on the Disk) welcomes Summer. Tiffany - who refuses to wear black, like a normal witch, but insists on wearing summery blue and green, the colors of her homeland, the Chalk - feels drawn to the empty space that represents Summer, present and not-present in the ritual. When she steps into the dance, she becomes part of the greater Dance.

This is the single scene that disappointed me most - it just didn't feel significant enough. But that might have been on purpose: Tiffany makes the mistake of entering the dance, and then doesn't understand why Miss Treason, her current witch, is so upset. If the Dark Morris had been depicted more forcefully, both these things would have been impossible: Tiffany remains clever and observant, and would never had made such a mistake if the mystical vibe had been stronger.

The rest of the book concerns Tiffany's reluctant assumption of some of the mystical aspects of Summer and her increasing involvement with the Wintersmith, who's courting her with all he's got ... but as 13-year-old girls aren't tempted by snowflakes and ice, he has to evolve and change. Some of this is reminiscent of Death's misadventures in Pratchett's earlier books, but Wintersmith has a much more specific goal in mind. Tiffany has to do some growing too, and she is helped along both by Nanny Ogg (!), who is being (for her) incredibly well-behaved, and by her own self-appointed task of aiding the dreadful Valley Girl-ish older witch-apprentice Annagramma to become a useful, properly grounded witch. In the end, Tiffany proves capable of bypassing her own fears and longings to send the Wintersmith onward when he has overstayed his welcome in the world.

I continue to be grateful to Pratchett for creating Tiffany and for allowing her to continue to be herself. Tiffany is a geeky, bookish introvert who happens to have fallen into the role of fairytale heroine. She is still just as unemotional and sensible as she ever was. Her awakening feelings for the Wintersmith and what he's trying to do don't transform her into a blushing, romantic teen: they simply help her evolve into an introvert who now has a little better understanding for human feelings. In Nanny Ogg's words, "You done well, Tiff!" And on behalf of all us introverted bookish girls everywhere, whatever age we may be at the moment, "Thanks, Pterry!"

Dear Wintersmith: The snowfall Saturday was very pretty, but don't you think enough is enough? Yrs respectfully, Cho.

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