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Not all is well in Lancre, the Chalk. A witch called Miss Tick and her toad arrive on the scene to find out what's going on. She realises something isn't right, and in the Aching farm the nightmares are coming down the hills.
Tiffany Aching finds that her brother has been kidnapped by, Miss Tick finds out, the Queen of the Elves who it seems is trying to make another attempt at invading the Discworld, and she's doing it by kidnapping children and infesting dreams.witch of the Chalklands, she arms herself with a frying pan, her grandmother's book of magic (titled "Diseases of Sheep") - and has the help of the Nac Mac Feegle, the tiny, blue-skinned "pictsies" who were thrown out of Fairyland for being Drunk and Disorderly.
Terry Pratchett's second book for children (his first being The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents), the Wee Free Men this time takes an aspect of the Discworld that's already been established and creates his story there. While Maurice made a lot of things up on the spot, The Wee Free Men takes what's already happened to create a much more real, deep atmosphere.
Even the person (after all, this is a book for younger audiences, compared to the usual Discworld audience) hasn't read anything set in Lancre it has a sense of being much more developed and much more real.
The Wee Free Men has a pretty good story, and while it takes elements of the previous book Lords and Ladies (which featured the Queen of the Elves) it works very well by itself and in fact is told from a different perspective from other Discworld books, as the main character is a nine year old, who (while having that Granny Weatherwax-like sternness about her) still has a lot to learn about the world.
This actually isn't a bad book to start reading if you're new to the Discworld series as while it touches upon a lot of themes found throughout the books, it has a sort of "brand new" feeling about it. As good for adults as it for children, the Wee Free Men is bound to enthrall and enchant everyone.
The Wee Free Men is Terry Pratchett second childrens books set in Discworld (the first being The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, which I havent read yet but will definitely have to) and is a Story of Discworld, but not a Novel of Discworld. Unlike his other books for children that Ive reviewed, though, I love this one every bit as much as the best Discworld novels its definitely more accessible for kids, but that doesnt make it any less enjoyable for adults. The story is set on the Disc but on a part not visited in any of the Discworld novels and the characters are all different, except a certain Granny, who makes a cameo appearance near the end of the book, and the eponymous little blue men (styled on the Picts [Scots], it seems) who are also called the Nac Mac Feegle. There did appear in the Discworld novel Carpe Jugulum, but in that I found them more annoying than funny.
The storyline goes thus: Tiffany Achings monster of a little brother, Wentworth (not a literal monster, you understand, just a little monster in the way that all little brothers are), has been kidnapped by the Queen of the Fairies - and Tiffany has to get her back. Before this quest starts she is visited by a Witch called Perspicacia Tick (meant to make her name sound like Mystic), who suspects that Tiffany may be a Witch but not know it yet. (I see were going to get on like a house on fire. There may be no survivors.)
As she sets off on her quest, she is unexpectedly aided by The Wee Free Men, who themselves lived in Fairyland but were thrown out for being Drunk and Disorderly! Theyre very small, fearsomely strong and quick, and virtually fearless but not too smart. (What are we good at, boys? Fightin! An drinkin! An thievin! And what else? Er fightin an drinkin an thievin!!) They also have a personal score to settle with the Queen of the Fairies but due to her awesome powers, she just happens to be the only person they are afraid of
The Wee Free Men is an absolute delight to read. Although the language used is somewhat simpler than in the Discworld novels, its fantastically readable and the humour leaps out at you from every page in fact, pretty much every sentence. The Wee Free men themselves are hysterical (both as a group and as individuals), and Tiffanys pragmatic and unflustered approach to every problem makes the bizarre situations even funnier. (For instance, at the start of the book story a monster appears in the local stream instead of being frightened, Tiffany uses Wentworth as bait for the monster and promptly whacks the monster on the head with a frying pan ) Despite her pragmatism, Tiffany is a very angaging and likeable character - and you've gotta love those Wee Free Men! Wentworth is a very funny character and the relationship Tiffany has with him is both funny, realistic, and occasionally touching. (Why do you want to save him? You dont even like him! I know I dont like him. But hes my brother.) The situations themselves are perhaps even more surreal than those in a Discworld novel, which is quite an achievement!
The storyline is extremely good for a childrens book. It borrows from practically every fairy tale ever written, but blends the elements into one very coherent storyline that as a whole owes nothing to these fairytales. The use of common ideas will no doubt help to make the experience of reading it more enjoyable for young children as it introduces things they already know about. There is no bad language used in the book (unless the word crivens! is a real word in some language I think it was made up so that the Wee Free Men could use an expletive that wasnt actually a swear word), and there is only some mild comic violence, so its completely kid-safe. (Unless of course the Witch aspect is something that you would not want your children to read this is in fact a very small part of the story though.)
Anyone whos read my book reviews for a while will know that the Discworld series is my all-time favourite series of novels. While The Wee Free Men is not strictly speaking part of that series, I would rank it right up with the best of the Discworld novels and believe me, thats quite an accolade from me.
What Pratchett has done here is amazing. He has created a book that is definitely more accessible for children but which adults will absolutely love too. To me, his amazing writing is in sharper evidence here than ever partly because I have not enjoyed his other childrens books half as much. Its hilarious on a level that children and adults alike can appreciate, and its got a cracking storyline. I would recommend it to anyone who can read!
It shouldn't be hard to find this in any good bookshop, but in case you can't, Amazon.co.uk have the book available in the following formats:
Paperback - £4.79
Hardback - £9.09
Audiobook (CD) - £10.49
The 'Wee Free men', contrary to popular understanding, are not Reformed Scottish Presbyterians in Terry Pratchett's writing. Far from it. They're the Nac Mac Feegle: six-inch high men with some similarities to humans, and some distinct differences. For one thing, they're blue. For another, they're extremely strong, with heads better used as weapons than for thinking. They talk with distinct Scottish accents, and their main interests in life are fighting, drinking and stealing. This book is set, like most of Terry Pratchett's books, on the Discworld. This is his continually evolving disc-shaped world which travels through space on the back of four elephants, and which is populated with a wide variety of characters from dwarfs to wizards, with a culture somewhat reminiscent of Medieval times. 'The Wee Free Men' is unusual for a Discworld book in being intended for children. I'm not entirely sure what makes this a children's book, since many children read the series intended for adults, and - as I've recently discovered - this one appeals to adults and teenagers every bit as much as it would to a child! ** Brief synopsis ** The book features a nine-year-old child called Tiffany, who lives on a farm. She was the youngest of a family of seven girls, until her baby brother Wentworth was born. As the youngest, she has to spend a lot of time looking after him, and she resents this, while accepting it as a duty. She's very intelligent, sees more than most of those around her, and is also good at making cheese. Shortly after the story begins, strange things start happening. A threatening monster appears, for instance, in the river. Many nine-year-olds would be terrified at this, but Tiffany finds herself angry instead.
She delves into the small collection of books that her family owns, and works out how to get rid of the monster, at least temporarily. Unfortunately, this is only the beginning of a bigger plot, formed by a not-very-intelligent queen of another, parasitic world, who lives on people's dreams, and who is planning to take over the Discworld. As Tiffany is blessed with 'first sight' - the ability to see things as they really are, rather than how one might expect them to be - and 'second thoughts' - the ability to think about what she's thinking - she is the only person who can do anything constructive. She is just beginning to realise this, when her brother Wentworth is stolen and she realises she needs to take action quickly. So starts a series of adventures, in which Tiffany meets various dangers and eventually overcomes them. A well-used plotting device, and one which could easily seem stale, but Terry Pratchett manages to bring it vividly to life. For one thing, Tiffany's only helpers are a toad - who is fairly wise, but doesn't like cold weather, and is a bit puzzled about how he came to be a toad - and the gang of Nac Mac Feegle, who are well-meaning, in a manner of speaking, but limited in what they can do because of their three-fold purpose in life. For another, it's full of wry observations about life, and typical Pratchett humour. ** My personal opinion ** I particularly liked the glimpses into the world of the Nac Mac Feegle. They featured briefly in one of the other Discworld books, but not in a way that makes us sympathetic with them. In this book we learn about their whole way of life, and why there are so many men, and so few women amongst them. Tiffany is privileged to be able to consider them her friends. While the majority of the characters are, inevitab
ly, amusing caricatures, Tiffany is a delightful young girl. She is practical, logical, and forthright. She thinks straight when others around her are confused, and she's clearly aware of her motivations. She's by no means a typical heroine - no long blonde curls or beauty: her main skills are churning butter and making cheese. She also enjoys learning, and using long words. And she's very likeable, in her honesty and determination. I think she could easily be an inspiration to other young - and not so young! - people who don't fit the popular, attractive mould. While this is, in one sense, a straightforward children's story, in another it has plenty of depth, and is a good addition to the Discworld series. It takes us back to the world of witches, a little reminiscent in places of 'Equal Rites', the third Discworld book, which featured a young girl trained by witches, but who was determined to be a wizard. Tiffany, by contrast, realises she is going to be a witch, in the Discworld sense of a wise woman, and there are some good insights into how Terry Pratchett sees them. I bought this book on special offer, after reading Alma's excellent review. My teenage sons and I decided it would be a good book to read aloud (as Pratchett usually is), so I read it to them recently over a couple of weeks. Some of the humour (for instance in the clever names of some of the Wee Free Men) comes out particularly well when reading aloud, perhaps more so than when reading to oneself. ** Details ** Available in hardback in all good bookshops - on and offline - for around £8.99, or various special reduced offers. It's only about 300 pages long, and (unusual for Terry Pratchett) contains chapters. Recommended for anyone of any age who enjoys the Discworld books, and as a good int
roduction to them for children of about eight or older.
Although in many of Terry Pratchett?s recent novels, there is an overall feeling that the author is in it for the money, and no longer taking the care he used to in his earlier books, the Wee Free Men proves that the master of comic fantasy still has the ability to take an over done theme and make it funny. Very, very funny. I began reading this in the car on a journey up to Hampshire from Cornwall. My boyfriend kept turning up the radio as he found my sniggering so distracting (I kept reading bits out to him to and they really don?t work out of context, so that could have been the problem rather than the sniggering). For those of you who have not yet been introduced to Terry Pratchett and the Discworld novels, the story takes place on a very unusual world. The Discworld is just that- an alternative reality in which the world really is flat, and in which it travels through space on the back of four elephants, who stand on top of a giant space turtle (gender unknown), which swims its way through the universe to an unknown destination. The story is based in a small village, somewhere on the surface of the Disc. For old Pratchett addicts, the story ties in with the three witches stories, although Granny Weatherwax and co. only make a token appearance at the end. The book centres on the tale of a girl living on a farm, whose brother gets stolen away by the fairies. The girl (whose name is Tiffany), is in many ways a typical farm girl, very good at cheese, lots of fellow feeling for the land, and very practical in nature. Like any practical girl, when at first her brother is threatened by a monster with big, pointy teeth, having been warned by a local clan of pictsies, she hatches a plan involving using her brother as bait to catch it, and then hitting the monster when it comes close enough with a cast iron frying pan. The aforementioned monster sinks into the depths of the small stream from whence it came and the triumphant girl returns ho
me with her very sticky, runny-nosed brother. This kind of thinking soon brings her to the attention of a wandering witch, who takes it upon herself to teach Tiffany witchery. It also results in the girl being made the Kelda (a kind of queen) of the pictsies who depend on her for her sensible mind, having very little common sense of their own, although they are very good at drinking, fighting, and erm... that other thing. Tiff learns from the travelling witch that the sudden onslaught of monsters and general fey folk are signs that the fairies are trying to break in to her world to take things over and generally make a nuisance of themselves. Her small sticky brother gets stolen, and the feud between Tiffany and the Queen of the Fairies is on. Queue lots of raucous singing by the Pictsies (who in the best traditions of Pratchett are true Pictsies- very Scottish with lots of blue tattoos and ginger hair, and a typical Celtic fiery temperament), lots of fighting and drinking of sheep lineament, queue magic circles and Tiffany realising that witching mostly involves knowing exactly who and where you are at all times, lots of hard staring and that if you hit things very hard with a pan they tend to go away. There is also a talking toad whose purpose is not revealed until the very end of the story, but he manages to fit in very satisfactorily. The story is as well written as all of Pratchett?s books tend to be, his characters are all just that- they have more than enough personality, and then some. There are the usual amusing foot notes, explaining bits of Discworld behaviour which the reader may not be entirely familiar with, and adding even more humour to an already hilarious story. The scenery is well drawn (except in the Fairy world where it?s not meant to be- read it and you?ll see what I mean), and ties in many folklore tales and legends in the usual Pratchett parody. There are no screaming wussy heroines in this book- th
e women are much more scary and practical than the men. The only downfall of the book, is that it was just too short. Like many of the best Pratchett novels, I wished that it had lasted for much longer than it did. All in all, I would highly recommend this to anyone with an interest in witches, fantasy, folklore, laughter, reading.... actually I'd recommend it to anyone!
Following the success of The Amazing Maurice, in which Terry Pratchett for the first time, combined his two greatest assets; that is, his incredible Discworld phenomena and his ability to write for children without being patronising, he now brings us a second helping of 'younger reader Discworld'. Another 'Story of Discworld', The Wee Free Men is once more, a completely stand-alone book. Something is amiss on the Aching farm! There's a monster with eyes the size of soup plates in the river and a headless horseman in the driveway. Even worse, there's a group of travelling teachers in town. Slavvering, ruthless, blood-thirsty, putrid mutants who....Ok, so I made that bit up for my own amusement! The travelling teachers are in town though. And nine year old Tiffany Aching does need help. Or at least, more information, which often amounts to the same thing. And what's with the sheep-stealing little blue men with red hair? Miss Perspicacia Tick is a wandering witch. Today she is a wandering witch masquerading as a travelling teacher. She's there to help, or at least inform. Except that she's on chalk (not teacher's chalk either, before you ask), and everyone knows witches need good solid rock to function, or at least, good solid soil. You can't grow a witch on chalk. It's too soft. And yet, for all that, her elbows tell her there's a witch around here. Which is just as well really, because another world is brushing against this one and causing ripples in reality. And what about the sheep-stealing little blue men with red hair? Everything points to Tiffany being the witch. She has 'first sight and second thoughts'. And she's good with cheese (says it all really). But she's spent all of her life on chalk and everyone knows you can't grow a witch on chalk. Shame no-one bothered to tell the chalk really. Still, it's not a good place to be a witch. Not s
ince the baron banned them after his son disappeared. Look at what happened to old Mrs Snapperly, just because people said she was a witch. Miss Tick (yes, think about it. I can wait...... mystic, for those who haven't cottoned on yet!), decides more expert help is required. Leaving Tiffany with her (Miss Tick's) talking toad to keep an eye on her (Tiffany) and instructions not to do anything, she goes to find it. But what about the sheep-stealing little blue men with red hair? Tiffany has other help at hand as well. Sheep-stealing little blue men with red hair (finally!....). The Nac Mac Feegle. The Wee Free Men. Six inches tall, but with a strength that far outweighs their size and a penchant for Special Sheep Liniment, stealing and fighting. They have enough attitude to turn a charging elephant, though the chances are they'd end up stealing it instead. Armed with their swords, their refusal to be beaten and their gonnagle (battle poet) playing the mousepipes, they are now Tiffany's staunch allies. And Tiffany is going to need all the help she can get, because her little brother has disappeared and she is the only one looking in the right place for him. He's in the land of dreams. Not the nice ones where everything happens how you want it to either. These are the kind of dreams where you wake in a sweat and clutch the sides of the bed, just to make sure they're really real. Carried off by the Queen of the fairies, it's now up to Tiffany and the Nac Mac Feegle to get him back. Now more than ever, she wishes Granny Aching were still here. She would have known what to do. But Granny Aching died two years ago and now it's too late to say all the things she wished she'd said. And it's too late to ask her what to do. She must rely on her own innate good sense, the advice of a talking toad, the often timely assistance of a group of battle crazy pictsies, a frying pan and a copy of diseases of the sheep. I
t's not going to be easy. So, do I think it's any good? Need you ask? Another round of hilarity in good old Discworld style, this takes us to the country of the sheep farmers. The Wold, as Granny Aching used to call it, or The Chalk as it is now known. Terry gives us a wry look at shepherding that keeps within the bounds of understanding for people who normally only come into contact with sheep at the dinner table. Granny Aching certainly had the outlook of a shepherd. Of most shepherds in fact. The only thing which I found to be off the mark, were the names of her sheepdogs. The reason for this becomes apparent later in the book, so I won't spoil it by telling you about them, but suffice to say, normally sheepdogs are all called Sweep and Cap and Tess and Fly etc. Two syllables are not unknown, but single syllable names are preferred. It makes the name quicker to shout and stops it getting in the way of the swearing. Maybe they do things differently on Discworld. Then there's the Nac Mac Feegle. We met one of the other clans in Carpe Jugulum, but that won't cloud your understanding either way. Here we have a somewhat deeper introduction to these characters, as they are one of the main focuses of the story. For a start, they are pictsies and not pixies, hence the blue skin (woad?), the red hair and the decidedly Scottish accents. Their lifestyle includes drinking, stealing and fighting. Actually that's their lifestyle in a nutshell. It's hard to say they are entirely a force for good. It's more that they are a force. They are indomitable, thoroughly irrepressible and quite often unintelligible. Fortunately for Tiffany and us, the toad is there to translate. I desperately want to tell you a couple of the funnier names, but since it would spoil their effect in the book, I'm not going to. I will however warn you that at least one of them is groanworthy. Just how I like 'em. Should you have any difficu
lty with their mode of speech, I suggest watching several hours of Billy Conolly. This should help enormously. Or if you can get your hands on them, try 'The Broons' and 'Oor Wullie' annuals! There's plenty on Ebay! You'll soon be fluent in Nac Mac Feegle and any holidays in Scotland will look a whole lot different as well! Tiffany has had some major changes in her life over the last two years. Starting with the death of her Granny, and including the birth of a new brother after she'd spent so many years of her life being the youngest, Tiffany is still coming to terms with some of these events. Jaqueline Wilson is well known for writing about these kinds of themes in a helpful way for children. Terry Pratchett is not, but probably should be. How a child deals with these upheavals is very much down to the individual. And yet, one of the most important things surely, is the knowledge that they are not alone. Not the first or only person in the world to feel as they do. Here Terry shows us, not only Tiffany?s adventures with monsters and mayhem, but also how she deals with some very human trials and tribulations. We also get to see them from point of view of a nine year old, which is a reminder to us all that children don't necessarily see things as we do. And then again, sometimes they see things all too clearly. The gentle humour is abundant and once again has the unique Pratchett stamp on it. On a second reading, it's always worth playing spot the reference. I rather like the one where Tiffany is good with cheese. Witches are supposed to ruin cheese you see (hence the ironic comment in brackets above), or at least something like that. It's a long time since I read about it and my usual method for spotting witches doesn't involve cheese or a witch-pricker or even black cats. Two minutes in the same queue is generally more than enough. Possibly it's funnier if you're already familiar with the thing
about cheese, but there's always such a wide range of references, I defy anybody not to get some! Not unless they are completely uninterested in anything in the outside world that is! Of some importance is the inclusion of the word susurrus, which is nicely explained without spoiling the flow of the narrative. I've come to suspect Terry Pratchett of covertly educating, not only children in his work, but sometimes adults as well. Whilst I cannot excuse this kind of behaviour in a humorous writer, it has to be said it's very low key and so I suppose we must let him off the hook this time. Seriously, Terry Pratchett is a master of language and anyone reading his work might inadvertently find the range of their vocabulary increasing without the need for any effort whatsoever. There is a wonderfully amusing, critical look at some of the weaker elements of believability in fairy tales (finally someone states the obvious flaw in Little Red Riding Hood). There is excitement and tension and a hint of the frightening, but done in such a way as to ensure children will not need months of counselling after reading it (don't you just hate it when that happens ;-)). The pace occasionally slows in some of the middle parts for necessary explanation, but never for long enough to be dull, even to the kids. I'm tempted to knock a star off for trying to sneak extra education into us, but frankly the story is just so entertaining, I couldn't possibly do it. This being apparently a book for children (since when did that stop the rest of us reading them), Terry has once again, opted for chapters, the beginning of which are accompanied by a small black and white illustration. Though it doesn't qualify as a picture book, these may help younger readers who are new to Discworld, form a better impression of the characters and landscape of the story. I can't finish without mentioning the cover illustration, which is done by Pa
ul Kidby. Without going into too much unnecessary detail, it depicts The Wee Free Men. I noted with some amusement, that one of them looks suspiciously like Billy Conolly. "An whit aboot Mel Gibson in Braveheart?" No chance! But then he's not really Scottish, is he? The Wee Free Men, which is only available in hardback at the moment, can be purchased from good book shops for the wee sum of £12.99, although there some good 'money off' offers around at the moment. Also, the ever reliable Amazon have it for £6.49 at: http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0385605331/qid=1057308174/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1 _2_1/026-5890724-4870048 Suitable for children aged 9 years to 99 years and beyond. For the seasoned Discworld addict, there are a couple of familiar faces making a cameo appearance near the end, which cannot fail to raise a smile. And that's all I'm prepared to say about them. Thankyou for reading this, but more importantly, go and read The Wee Free Men.
Up on the chalk downs they call The Wold, witches are banned - ever since the Baron's son vanished in the woods. Anyway, as all witches know, chalk's no good for magic.