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Not bad, but not his best
on 5 January 2007
As a Pratchett fan, I don't think he can write a bad book as such. That is, if you like Pratchett's style, you're going to enjoy most of his works. This isn't the best of his books, for sure, but I still enjoyed it. The characters are good and there's the usual mixture of humour and wisdom, but it's let down by an uninspiring central storyline and a weak ending.
As this is the third in the series, I would recommend reading the earlier books ('The Wee Free Men' and 'A Hat Full of Sky') first, although they are not essential to appreciating this one (but are better). The book picks up the story of Tiffany Aching, 13 year old trainee witch. If that conjures up images of Harry Potter like antics, forget it - witching in Terry Pratchett's Discworld is more about dispensing justice to squabbling peasants, delivering babies, and escaping from duckings with pointy hat still intact, and Tiffany's training is very much an apprenticeship as opposed to the cosy public school like atmosphere of Hogwarts.
Tiffany is a likeable heroine, mostly because of her down to earth practicality, with just enough magical ability to be interesting. But the story is stolen, along with most of the items featured in it, by the Nac Mac Feegle - the tiny blue fighting men introduced in the first book of the series. There are also some good supporting characters; eccentric Miss Treason, Discworld stalwarts Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax, and new witch Annagramma who thinks magic is more about spells than midwifery and gets a nasty shock...
So what's not so good? I suppose that after three outings, the characters and the concept seem just a little bit tired. They're still good, but they're not that original anymore. The story also suffers from its own structure. Starting with the big climax might make for an exciting beginning but it is also confusing and means the end feels like an anticlimax. I actually enjoyed the middle part of the book much more. The central storyline with the Wintersmith didn't really grab me, and I lost interest by the end. It felt rather like the story petered out, especially as the main drama had already taken place in chapter one.
This story is aimed primarily at children, and I think would be suitable for 12 year olds upwards, though it still will have plenty of appeal for adults too. I would recommend it to established Pratchett fans for the middle chapters, but if you're new to Pratchett start with some of his better works first.
On the whole, not bad but not great. If Pratchett wants to write a fourth he needs to inject some originality and find a stronger central storyline that can carry the entire length of the book.