VINE VOICEon 15 April 2006
First published in 2004 and set on the Discworld, "A Hat Full of Sky" is the sequel to "The Wee Free Men" and sees Tiffany Aching return as the book's heroine. Tiffany, now eleven years old, has been brought up on a farm in an area on the Chalk. She has six older sisters, one younger brother, wields a mean frying pan, is very good with cheese and has already impressed the Discworld's greatest witch. Granny Aching, who dies when Tiffany was seven, continues to be a big influence on her grand-daughter. Granny was a shepherdess, very fond of Jolly Sailor tobacco and - Tiffany is convinced - a witch. Remembering how Granny said it was important to stand up for those who have no voice, Tiffany has decided she wants to follow in her footsteps.
The book also features an exceptionally rowdy, and thoroughly entertaining, bunch of fairies. The Wee Free Men, we also known as the Nac Mac Feegle, are a Pictsie race who were thrown out of Fairyland for being drunk, disorderly and rebellious. They are covered in tattoos, have red hair and blue skin and wear little other thank kilts and swords. An extremely fast and strong race, they are fond of fighting, stealing and drinking - Granny Aching's Special Sheep Liniment is a particular favorite. There have been a few changes since "The Wee Free Men", however. The clan now has a new gonnagle, Awf'ly Wee Billy Bigchin Mac Feegle, and a new Kelda, Jeannie of the Long Lake. Jeannie, as tradition demands, has married the Big Man o' the Clan, Rob Anybody Feegle. She is also responsible for possibly the biggest change of them all. The Nac Mac Feegle had once been afraid of reading and writing, believing it to be a dangerous type of magic. Jeannie now wants the clan, beginning with Rob Anybody, to learn how to read and write. For a while during "The Wee Free Men", however, Tiffany was the clan's temporary Kelda - as a result, they have never forgotten her and still try to protect her. It also means that Jeannie doesn't like or trust the young hag at all.
As the book opens, Tiffany is leaving the Chalk for a spell (boom boom !). She's been apprenticed to Miss Level, a very peculiar research witch but clearly with some talent. (Miss Level's cottage is also home to Oswald, a kind of anti-poltergeist : instead of messing things up, he's obsessively tidy). Tiffany travels to Miss Level's with Miss Tick : unknown to either of then, however, they are being followed by a hiver. This is a type of demon without a body, brain or shape of its own. Instead, they search for and take refuge in bodies of great power - and this particular hiver has targeted Tiffany. Tiffany has inadvertently learnt how to 'borrow', a trick which leaves her own body unattended. Unfortunately, this will makes things easier for the hiver to take up residence. Luckily, the Wee Free Men want to follow and protect her - if they can convince their new Kelda it's a good idea.
Like everything else I've read by Pratchett, this is an excellent book. It's easily read, features plenty of likeable characters and there are plenty of laughs. Although I would recommend reading "The Wee Free Men" before this instalment "A Hat Full of Sky" is definitely recommended !