Review: A Hat Full of Sky, by Terry Pratchett
eagle at eyrie.org
Mon Oct 16 19:44:02 PDT 2023
A Hat Full of Sky
by Terry Pratchett
Series: Discworld #32
Format: Mass market
A Hat Full of Sky is the 32nd Discworld novel and the second Tiffany
Aching young adult novel. You should not start here, but you could
start with The Wee Free Men. As with that book, some parts of the story
carry more weight if you are already familiar with Granny Weatherwax.
Tiffany is a witch, but she needs to be trained. This is normally done
by apprenticeship, and in Tiffany's case it seemed wise to give her
exposure to more types of witching. Thus, Tiffany, complete with new
boots and a going-away present from the still-somewhat-annoying Roland,
is off on an apprenticeship to the sensible Miss Level. (The new boots
feel wrong and get swapped out for her concealed old boots at the first
Unbeknownst to Tiffany, her precocious experiments with leaving her
body as a convenient substitute for a mirror have attracted something
very bad, something none of the witches are expecting. The Nac Mac
Feegle know a hiver as soon as they feel it, but they have a new kelda
now, and she's not sure she wants them racing off after their old
Terry Pratchett is very good at a lot of things, but I don't think
villains are one of his strengths. He manages an occasional memorable
one (the Auditors, for example, at least before the whole chocolate
thing), but I find most of them a bit boring. The hiver is one of the
boring ones. It serves mostly as a concretized metaphor about the
temptations of magical power, but those temptations felt so unlike the
tendencies of Tiffany's personality that I didn't think the metaphor
worked in the story.
The interesting heart of this book to me is the conflict between
Tiffany's impatience with nonsense and Miss Level's arguably excessive
willingness to help everyone regardless of how demanding they get.
There's something deeper in here about female socialization and how
that interacts with Pratchett's conception of witches that got me
thinking, although I don't think Pratchett landed the point with full
Miss Level is clearly a good witch to her village and seems comfortable
with how she lives her life, so perhaps they're not taking advantage of
her, but she thoroughly slots herself into the helper role. If Tiffany
attempted the same role, people would be taking advantage of her,
because the role doesn't fit her. And yet, there's a lesson here she
needs to learn about seeing other people as people, even if it wouldn't
be healthy for her to move all the way to Miss Level's mindset. Tiffany
is a precocious kid who is used to being underestimated, and who has
reacted by becoming independent and somewhat judgmental. She's also had
a taste of real magical power, which creates a risk of her getting too
far into her own head. Miss Level is a fount of empathy and
understanding for the normal people around her, which Tiffany resists
and needed to learn.
I think Granny Weatherwax is too much like Tiffany to teach her that.
She also has no patience for fools, but she's older and wiser and knows
Tiffany needs a push in that direction. Miss Level isn't a destination,
but more of a counterbalance.
That emotional journey, a conclusion that again focuses on the role of
witches in questions of life and death, and Tiffany's fascinatingly
spiky mutual respect with Granny Weatherwax were the best parts of this
book for me. The middle section with the hiver was rather tedious and
forgettable, and the Nac Mac Feegle were entertaining but not more than
that. It felt like the story went in a few different directions and
only some of them worked, in part because the villain intended to tie
those pieces together was more of a force of nature than a piece of
Tiffany's emotional puzzle. If the hiver had resonated with the darker
parts of Tiffany's natural personality, the plot would have worked
better. Pratchett was gesturing in that direction, but he never
convinced me it was consistent with what we'd already seen of her.
Like a lot of the Discworld novels, the good moments in A Hat Full of
Sky are astonishing, but the plot is somewhat forgettable. It's still
solidly entertaining, though, and if you enjoyed The Wee Free Men, I
think this is slightly better.
Followed by Going Postal in publication order. The next Tiffany Aching
novel is Wintersmith.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Russ Allbery (eagle at eyrie.org) <https://www.eyrie.org/~eagle/>
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