The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett. ★★★★
The Wee Free Men is the first book in Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching series, a YA series that’s sort of a sub-series of the Discworld books. They can be read independently or as an introduction into the larger world.
In the Wee Free Men, Tiffany is a nine year old girl who wants to be a witch. Why does she want to be a witch? Because an old woman who was suspected of being a witch was turned out of her home and died of the cold. Tiffany’s decided that she will be a witch so that this will never happen again. This tells you a lot about the sort of person Tiffany is. She’s brave, compassionate, and intelligent. She read the dictionary cover to cover because no one told her she wasn’t supposed to. If you were to ask me to list my favorite protagonists, Tiffany would probably be near the top of the list.
Tiffany’s younger brother is kidnapped by the Queen of the Fairies. Tiffany didn’t particularly love her brother, even though she feels like she should, but he’s hers. And it’s up to her to rescue him, although she has the help of the Nac Mac Feegle, a tribe of boisterous six inch tall blue warriors.
“I know nothing about her. Just some books, and some stories she tried to tell me, and things I didn’t understand, and I remember big red soft hands and that smell. I never knew who she really was. I mean, she must have been nine too, once.”
Interwoven with this story is Tiffany’s memories of her grandmother, Granny Achings, who died around two years ago. Tiffany looked up to her grandmother but felt that she was never quite able to communicate with her. As much as The Wee Free Men is a story about fairies, it is also a story about Tiffany’s loss and grief.
“Them as can do has to do for them as can’t. And someone has to speak up for them as has no voices.”
The Wee Free Men is also about Tiffany’s sense of responsibility to her land, the Chalk, and people. Granny Achings was a shepherd of the Chalk in more ways than one. She watched the boundaries and looked after those who had no one else to speak for them. The Wee Free Men is about Tiffany taking this responsibility onto herself.
“The thing about witchcraft,” said Mistress Weatherwax, “is that it’s not like school at all. First you get the test, and then afterward you spend years findin’ out how you passed it. It’s a bit like life in that respect.”
The Wee Free Men is the beginning of Tiffany’s story. The other books follow her as she grows older and accepts ever more responsibility. In short, The Wee Free Men is the start of Tiffany becoming a witch. I think I prefer the later books in the series, but The Wee Free Men is a good beginning.
I would recommend The Wee Free Men to someone looking for YA fantasy with a strong female lead and no romance.