I shall wear midnight: the sort of book that makes you want to have nieces

I’m incredibly enthusiastic about I shall wear midnight by Terry Pratchett.

This is a marvelous book. Let me enumerate the things which make it just lovely.

It’s a fantasy novel, and a coming of age novel, and each of these genres give authors a series of easy outs. We know how a teen romance novel ends. We know how a coming of age novel ends. We know how heroines fight the bad guys in fantasy novels, with their muscular feminist swordplay. That’s the point of genre novels: we know what we are going to get.

Genre novels are amusing and entertaining, because we know how they work. They are safe to give to children, because we know precisely what they are getting. We know and as a vast reading public, love, genre conventions.

The question, though that emerges when you are reading I shall wear midnight, is “Are these honest?” Terry Pratchett takes the hard road when he could have taken the easy one. It’s not like in the previous books in this series. It’s not just that, like in Hat full of sky you compare the education of Tiffany Aching with that of Harry Potter and see there’s a layer of biting satire in there which is delicious, even if you like the Worst Witch. It’s that Pterry decides to tell an honest story within the setting of a fantasy novel.

This means he can’t use any of the convenient trapdoors built into the genre by earlier authors. Tiffany isn’t allowed to get baron’s son as her beau simply because she deserves it. She doesn’t get to win her fights just because she’s plucky and we want girls to embrace their own power. She doesn’t win by learning the one MacGuffin spell which destroys the enemy, at the end of her quest. Mr Pratchett kicks away all of this supporting scaffolding, so that his story needs to work in spite of genre conventions.

And the thing is, it does.  It’s well written, humorous, active and philosophical in turns. It has overt messages in it, as so many teen books do, but the messages aren’t either the gritty hopelessness or bizzare self-affiirmation common to books written for teens by adults. In some ways, this brings it back closer to its roots in fairy tales, which were, in origin, about dealing with life, rather than about entertaining babies.

I’m not sure if I like it more than the previous books in the series: I bought it from a tiny bookstore in Edinburgh, as display stock from their window. My wife and I were on our first ever overseas holiday together (and my first ever), so it has a whole other bundle of emotions wrapped around it which make the comparison difficult. I can say though that I have read an awful lot of coming of age fiction, to the point where I am almost exhausted by the trope, but this still seemed perfectly done.

If you’d like to start the series, begin with Wee Free Men, and  continue through Hat full of sky and Wintersmith. Gold Coast Library Service seems to be out of copies of Wee Free Men for the moment, so you can either go onto the second one and pop back once we have some fresh copies,. or request an inter-library loan.

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