Terry Pratchett’s A Hat Full of Sky

cover, A Hat Full of SkyRachel Manija Brown wrote this review.

Tiffany Aching is back. So are Granny Weatherwax and the Nac Mac Feegle.

If that means nothing to you, be aware that I’m writing about the sequel to The Wee Free Men, in which young Tiffany Aching and a band of rowdy fairies rescued her sticky little brother from the Fairy Queen. A Hat Full of Sky stands on its own, but you should read the first book anyway; it’s good.

As was promised in the last book, Tiffany leaves her beloved Chalk and cheeses to study witchcraft. She’s sent to stay with Miss Level, who is a witch or possibly two of them, and whose multiple state of being gives Pratchett the opportunity for some inspired word play.

But despite Tiffany’s triumph over the Fairy Queen, she can’t construct a simple magic detector or ride a broomstick without throwing up. Miss Level is an all-too-good witch whose daily routine consists of clipping old men’s toenails, bringing lonely people tea and company, and performing similarly dull but worthy tasks. The girls in the local coven are bossed around by the dreadful Annagramma, who combines New Age pretentiousness with the squelching sarcasm of a popular teenager afraid of losing her place. And a bodiless being called a hiver, which possesses people and makes them go insane and do terrible things, drifts over the hills in search of a girl who has power but doesn’t know how to use it.

But Rob Anybody, now king of the Nac Mac Feegle, learns of the hiver’s pursuit of Tiffany and devises a clever plan to save her. Well, he devises a plan, anyway. Actually, a “pln.” (Rob’s writing lessons didn’t quite take.)

Few writers can produce a book every year. Fewer yet can do so without getting tired and bored, and turning out repetitive volumes that reek of obligation and frequent looks at the clock. But Terry Pratchett’s enthusiasm is still undimmed, and his trademark touch with character and comedy is as sharp and fresh as ever. A scene where the Nac Mac Feegle try out a disguise that’s so stupid that it’s almost brilliant took a long time for me to finish because I kept laughing so hard that I couldn’t focus. Pratchett also experiments with horror (you’ll never hear the phrase “pink balloon” in quite the same way again) and serious fantasy. A few moments which concern Tiffany’s connection to the land reminded me of Alan Garner, and there’s no higher praise than that.

A Hat Full of Sky has a few flaws. I could have done with about three fewer repetitions of the idea that true magic lies in everyday kindnesses. And a revelation about the nature and motivation of the hiver doesn’t jibe with its preference for possessing any humans, much less intelligent and magically talented ones, rather than animals.

But these are more quibbles than serious problems in a book which shows every sign of having been written with love and care and the commitment to keep thinking, keep wondering, keep trying new things. After forty-two books, all of them enjoyable and a number of them brilliant, Terry Pratchett is still on an upward trajectory.

(HarperCollins, 2004)

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Diverse Voices is our catch-all for writers and other staffers who did but a few reviews or other writings for us. They are credited at the beginning of the actual writing if we know who they are which we don't always. It also includes material by writers that first appeared in the Sleeping Hedgehog, our in-house newsletter for staff and readers here. Some material is drawn from Folk Tales, Mostly Folk and Roots & Branches, three other publications we've done.

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