Terry Pratchett’s A Hat Full of Sky is the most recent putatively-YA Discworld novel; unlike its predecessors, it actually has a bit of a YA feel to it. That’s not an impression I can quantify or back up with hard evidence, but the writing seems to be aimed at someone younger than the presumptive reader of other Discworld novels.
If I’d heard that before I read the book, I’d’ve been a bit worried — most YA books are terrible, and the best of them are those that, like Pratchett’s other YA books and Pullman’s trilogy, aren’t really YA at all. In this case, though, there’s no need for worry — while it’s not as good as Wee Free Men , this is a solid, above-average Discworld novel.
The comparison to Wee Free Men is particularly apt, because this is a direct sequel, with young witch-in-training Tiffany Aching once again featuring as the protagonist; apparently, Pratchett’s got a new Discworld subseries to sit alongside the Death, Vimes, Rincewind, and Witches subserieses. The problem with making Tiffany Aching into a full-on subseries protagonist is that she’s too similar to existing characters — she reads as a mix of (to a small extent) Susan and (to a large extent) Granny Weatherwax.
That’s not entirely a bad thing. Both Weatherwax and Susan are great characters who make for interesting stories; likewise with Tiffany. But because she’s the third iteration of the character type, Tiffany comes off as just another instance of that type, rather than as a unique character. More problematic, she’s not (in this book, at least) entirely believable. It’s one thing for an 11-year-old to be uncommonly wise, powerful, and perceptive; it’s another for her to be as wise, powerful, and perceptive as the legendary Granny Weatherwax. A young girl, no matter what her background and innate sensibility, isn’t going to have the same capacity for reflection, insight, and wisdom as a particulary wise old woman.
I suppose I can handwave Tiffany’s absurd coolness away with the excuse that it’s traditional for children in YA books to be talented far beyond their years — just think of Ender, who’s the least plausible awesomely cool child ever committed to paper — but it’s a bit of a bother nevertheless, particularly because I expect more from Pratchett than genre convention.
But whatever plausibility problems Tiffany has, it must be admitted that she does make for a great character, particularly with her entourage of Nac Mac Feegle (who, with familiarity, become less amusing than in the previous book, but are still far from tired and trite). Even though she’s a stereotypical Discworld witch, and the story of A Hat Full of Sky is a stereotypical Discworld witch plot, it’s still a damn fine story.