It took me a while to really become hooked by this book. Some of it is undoubtedly me, but some of it is the story, which is darker than the earlier books. Even though each of the prior three had terrible things take place in them (abduction of people by fairies and rescue by Tiffany in The Wee Free Men, possession by a Hiver in A Hat Full of Sky, and pursuit by the Winter in Wintersmith, which is more perilous than it sounds), this one begins in dark times, and the darkness and fear that pervade the novel were a bit off-putting, I think. Could be just me.
See the book starts with Tiffany in a funk because Roland (set up to be her potential love interest in the previous books) is engaged to a wealthy young woman named Letitia. (Truefact: my mother's father wanted to name her Letitia. It did not happen.) In the second chapter, a very young girl is nearly beaten to death by her father, causing her to miscarry. And the old Baron is dying. And suddenly everyone in the wide world is starking to look askance at witches. Yeah, it's dark days indeed on the Chalk and elsewhere in Discworld.
Turns out, though, that the book still has plenty of humor in it. For one thing, there are the Nac Mac Feegle (aka the Wee Free Men), but they aren't around all that much until Chapter Six, which is, by the way, where I started becoming invested in the book. Not just for the Feegles, but because the scene-setting stops and the real action starts. Not that we don't need all the stuff that came before it, because we do, and it's all fine and it turns out well enough in the end, but it wasn't until Chapter Six that the book started to become unputdownable for me.
My favorite new character is probably Preston, a clever young man who works for the Baron and shares Tiffany's love of words, although it's a tough call - Mrs. Proust, a witch from Ankh-Morpork, is pretty great, as is the wizard Eskarina Smith (who has been mentioned in a prior Tiffany Aching book as well as in another Discworld novel), and Wee Mad Arthur, a very small, very blue policeman from the City, is funny. In the end, even Letitia proves fascinating, despite her rather inauspicious start. And there's another witch in the book, one we only catch glimpses of much of the time, who proves very interesting indeed.
A must-read for fans of Feegles and of Tiffany Aching, of course. And for people who are interested in string theory.
Based on the way the book concludes, I rather expect it is the last of the YA Tiffany Aching novels. Once again Pratchett has made me laugh and cry, made me think and hope and wish, and made me aspire to be a better writer. And I leave you with these words of Terry Pratchett's, pulled from the Author's Note at the back of the book:
It is important that we know where we come from, because if you don not know where you come from, then you don't know where you are, and if you don't know where you are, then you don't know where you're going. And if you don't know where you're going, you're probably going wrong.