I Shall Wear Midnight, written for young adults, is, unbelievably, Terry Pratchett’s thirty-eighth Discworld novel and the fourth title in the Tiffany Aching series. It is ironic that his previous, fairly lightweight, Discworld title Unseen Academicals was written for adults yet this one, which deals with themes of extreme domestic violence, attempted suicide and cultural prejudice, is pitched for younger readers. Perhaps the author believes that some matters are so grown-up that only a child’s mind can comprehend them.
Pratchett has always been good at writing quotable sound bites; only two other authors spring to mind as being more quotable – Charles Dickens and P.G. Wodehouse – and Sir Terry, surely, would not be ashamed of being in such distinguished company. Whole websites are devoted to the systematic cataloguing of the Discworld author’s quotes, although I Shall Wear Midnight is too recent to make its mark yet on any of them. Meanwhile, however, here are a few choice examples:
“Letitia! What a name. Halfway between a salad and a sneeze.” [Tiffany, describing her weak and watery rival]
The moon was well up and turned the world into a sharp-edged jigsaw of black and silver…
It was the kind of voice a grown-up uses when it tells a child ‘We are having fun, aren’t we?’, in case the child hasn’t reached that conclusion yet.
The Nac Mac Feegle were indeed ferocious and fearsome fighters, with the minor drawback – from their point of view – that seconds into any fight, sheer enjoyment took over, and they tended to attack one another, nearby trees and, if no other target presented itself, themselves.
If you needed to guard something that didn’t need guarding, possibly because no one in their right mind would want to steal it, then Corporal Nobbs of the City Watch was, for want of a better way of describing him, and in the absence of any hard biological evidence to the contrary, your man.
“Very well!” she said like a schoolteacher who is only just satisfied with the naughty class.
“Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things.”
But the essence of Terry Pratchett has always been far more than well-written sentences. It is the stance which he takes on important issues which is the life-blood of his stories. In this book, as already mentioned, a central theme is that of domestic violence but it is typical of Pratchett that he refuses to take a simplistic moral high-tone over the matter. With consummate skill he allows the reader to feel compassion for the perpetrator of such a monstrous deed as a man beating his own teenage daughter so severely that her unborn child dies. The image of the man subsequently placing a bouquet of stinging nettles on the child’s grave after he has been rescued from his attempted suicide is a vivid and powerful one. Yes, this is a book for young adults… How DARE anyone accuse Sir Terry Pratchett of being JUST a fantasy writer!