Terry Pratchett's A Hat Full of Sky is my favourite of the "Tiffany Aching" series of Discworld novels for children. If anyone hasn't managed to read the first story in the series, The Wee Free Men, there's a review over on my main Blog. 11 year old Tiffany Aching, a young witch-in-training is about to begin her first apprenticeship to an older witch named Miss Level. Miss Level is rather unusual, even for a witch, in that she has two bodies that share one mind. Unfortunately, just before she leaves the Chalk (where she lives), Tiffany attracts the attention of a "hiver", a bodiless creature that likes to inhabit strong minds until the owners of those minds go mad and die. Despite the fact that she's no longer their Kelda (ie. Queen), several of the Nac Mac Feegle go after her, disguising themselves as a human by dressing up in stolen clothes (and a stolen beard) so that they can get the stagecoach up into the mountains. (Nac Mac Feegle are a Faerie race of mostly men who are 6 inches high and who love to fight, drink and steal. Female Nac Mac Feegles are very rare and they're commonly understood to get all the brains whilst the males get all the brawn.)
By the time the Nac Mac Feegle arrive, however, the hiver has already possessed Tiffany's mind and they find themselves forced to go after Tiffany (being otherworldly creatures, they're able to enter Tiffany's mind via her dreams) in order to help her to rescue herself. Tiffany manages to free her mind from the hiver, but it hangs around, wanting her power for itself and in the end she is forced to take it on and deal with it.
Things I love about this story:
1 - The remarkably mature way in which Tiffany deals with the hiver. Instead of trying to destroy it, she helps it to find peace, taking it into Death's Kingdom, giving it a name and telling it a story of how humans are made up of many aspects of their ancestors.
2 - Terry's comments about reading and writing being odd hobbies that aren't apparently much good for anything, although they do help to transmit history and experience to future generations.
3 - The reference, right at the beginning of the first chapter, to the secret fear that all witches have, of turning into their stereotype of a cackling, power-crazed old woman who cares nothing for anyone else.
4 - The way that Terry gives us philosophy with humour (in Chapter 11), making it non-didactic (Tiffany tells the hiver that humans know when not to listen to the monkey, which puzzles the hiver):
The old bit of our brains that wants to be head monkey, and attacks when its surprised. [...] It reacts. It doesn't think. Being human is knowing when not to be the monkey or the lizard or any of the other old echoes. But when you take people over, you silence the human part. You listen to the monkey. The monkey doesn't know what it needs, only what it wants.
5 - Tiffany's respect for Granny Weatherwax and her refusal to try to outdo Granny Weatherwax during the Witch Trials, and her understanding that Granny Weatherwax is tough on others because she's tough on herself.
So what did you think of A Hat Full Of Sky ? What worked for you, what didn't ? Did you like it enough to want to read the third book in the series (Wintersmith) ? Did anyone read this book without reading The Wee Free Men first ?