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The Wee Free Men: A Story of Discworld    by Terry Pratchett order for
Wee Free Men
by Terry Pratchett
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2004 (2003)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I am embarrassed to admit that The Wee Free Men is my first venture into Discworld, though my father has long been a devoted fan. Like countless others before me, I am now thoroughly hooked and want more. Though this particular Discworld adventure is aimed at the younger crowd, its humor works well for all ages. You know you're going to have fun when you read the opening sentence, 'Some things start before other things.'

Miss Perspicacia Tick, a witch exploring the universe from the shelter of a 'raggedy hedge', notices a 'ripple in the walls of the world' and then sees something very curious indeed in the Chalk downlands. Tiffany Aching, young and untried, doesn't know she is a witch, though she does have 'First Sight and Second Thoughts.' Using her baby brother as bait and wielding an iron frying pan, Tiffany deals competently with a screaming monster. Miss Tick can't believe her eyes, as surely Chalk is too soft too grow a witch. And she's not the only watcher. The Nac Mac Feegle, also known as the Wee Free Men, 'most feared of all the fairy races', share her interest in Tiffany.

Miss Tick makes contact, in the guise of one of the travelling teachers (who 'sold the key to the universe to people who didn't even know it was locked') and warns Tiffany of an imminent 'incursion of major proportions' of all the things that give children nightmares. Miss Tick goes for help, leaving behind her talking toad. Tiffany soon also has the Nac Mac Feegle, famous for 'Stealin' an' drinkin' an' fightin'' on her side, which is just as well as she needs all the help she can get. When Tiffany's resented wee brother Wentworth is kidnapped, she resolutely sets off to the rescue, frying pan in hand.

Tiffany knows that a witch 'deals with things' and has the memory of her Granny Aching's words to guide her, 'Them as can do has to do for them as can't. And someone has to speak up for them as has no voices.' There are serious notions under all the adventure and bantering fun in this tale. And it is great fun, as the Wee Free Men (who have names like 'Not-as-big-as-Medium-Sized-Jock-but-bigger-than-Wee-Jock-Jock') fire bad poetry at the bad guys and are almost undone when the villainess uses lawyers against them. When Tiffany and her allies finally win the day, Miss Tick learns that the bones of Chalk hills are flint.

The Wee Free Men is a remarkable tale, told by a master storyteller. As dreams and nightmares come to life, it speaks of family and community relationships, and of taking responsibility to do what is needed and what is right - in a context that is sheer fun.

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