The thirtieth entry in the Great Terry Pratchett Re-read-athon is another departure from what I’ll loosely describe as the normal run. Like The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, it’s billed as “for younger readers”, but it’s the beginning of a series rather than a one-off.
Tiffany Aching isn’t the average nine-year old. Smarter than most people, with a knack for seeing things that other people manage not to, and with the kind of mind that leads her to ask the kind of questions most people prefer not to, she’s quite clearly witch material. And when Weird Things start to happen, she’s ideally suited to sort them out.
Having an enquiring mind, she generally goes along to learn something when the bands of teachers visit the area.
They went from village to village delivering short lessons on many subjects. They kept apart from the other travellers, and were quite mysterious in their ragged robes and strange square hats….
They went to sleep under the stars, which the maths teachers would count, the astronomy teachers would measure and the literature teachers would name. The geography teachers got lost in the woods and fell into bear traps.
Having seen a strange creature in the river, Tiffany talks to one of the teachers.
“I would like a question answered today,” said Tiffany.
“Provided it’s not the one about how you get baby hedgehogs,” said the man.
“No,” said Tiffany patiently. “It’s about zoology.”
“Zoology, eh? That’s a big word, isn’t it?”
“No, actually it isn’t,” said Tiffany. “Patronizing is a big word. Zoology is really quite short.”
Having identified the creature as a minor monster known as Jenny Green-Teeth, without much help from the teacher, but with some advice from Miss Tick, a witch who has come along to see what’s happening, more or less, Tiffany decides to deal with it herself, in a Cunning Plan which involves (a) using her little brother as bait and (b) whacking the monster with a large frying pan.
Things start to get even weirder when Tiffany’s little brother disappears. They get weirder still when she meets a clan of the Nac Mac Feegle, or the Wee Free Men, as they like to call themselves. The Nac Mac Feegle, as you might recall from Carpe Jugulum, are a variety of pixies, err Pictsies possessed of enormous strength, loads of blue tattoos, and Scottish accents with the knobs turned up to several million. They’re insanely violent and enormous fun. Tiffany finds herself drawn into their society, which is very handy, as the Queen of the Fairies has kidnapped her brother, and the Nac Mac Feegle are just the kind of help she needs.
There is a lot to enjoy in this relatively short book. Much of the fun comes from the Feegles, who fear nothing except maybe lawyers, which is presumably why their swords glow blue in the presence of such deadly creatures.
Every Nac Mac Feegle clan has a sort of bard, or minstrel, whose job it is to write and sing stirring battle songs and the like. In one of those cultural leakage wossnames, this character is known as the Gonnagle, which is surely a nod to Scotland’s most, err, something, poet William McGonagall.
And when the trouble really starts, the Nac Mac Feegle shout their war cries. They’re far too individual to have a standard one, of course.
“They can tak’ oour lives but they cannae tak’ oour troousers!”
“Ye’ll tak’ the high road an’ I’ll tak’ yer wallet!”
But there is one they can agree on
Nae king! Nae quin! Nae laird! Nae master! We willnae be fooled again!
Quite right, too.
Huge fun, and with a guest appearance from some old friends towards the end. There will be more from Tiffany quite soon…
 Their preferred version. And you wouldn’t want to argue with them