Tiffany is now sixteen years old and is the witch on The Chalk. She has learnt that witching is more about nursing than about doing magic and finds people expect an old head on young shoulders, but do not often want to give her the credit she deserves when she lives up to their expectations. And now there's an odd mood about. Every couple of hundred years it seems the populace has a mood swing and decides it doesn't much like witches after all, that they could be responsible for all kinds of ills and nastiness. And this appears to be happening again. But why? Is it the natural order of things or is there something else afoot?
The old baron of The Chalk dies while his son is in Ankh-Morpork. The son, Roland, was very close to Tiffany and it was supposed that they might become romantically involved. But now Roland is suddenly engaged to Leticia, a beautiful girl with an awful mother who wants to rule the roost at the castle. It falls to Tiffany go and fetch Roland and his fiance back from the city. Naturally, she doesn't want to do it, especially when on the way she encounters a sinister being who has no eyes, just gaps where you can see through his head to the other side. Luckily, Tiffany is constantly protected by the Nac Mac Feegle tribe of little blue men, or Wee Free Men, even if she isn't always grateful for their constant vigilance. In the city, Tiffany gets into all kinds of trouble and once again encounters the eyeless man. Something very bad is clearly about happen.
Tiffany is up to her eyes in problems. She's accused of disturbing the peace in the city by The Watch and locked up, and back on The Chalk she has a serious problem of an assault by a vicious father on his own daughter. Add to that her own emotional vulnerablity over Roland, accusations over her honesty, and now the serious and possibly world-altering problem of the eyeless man, and Tiffany is wondering if this is all worth it. Somehow she has to find a way to solve these problems and prove to her people that she is a viable witch.
Well, I believe this may be the last of the Tiffany Aching books. Not only did it feel like a 'good-bye', especially at the end, but the comments of others seem to indicate it might be. I feel sad but perhaps it's the right time.
There're a lot of grown-up issues for Tiffany to deal with in this story. Dealing with violence in the home of one of her patients, dealing with unyeilding attitudes, trying to sort out her own feelings towards someone who has basically jilted her in favour of girl who is blonde and pretty. As Tiffany says, brunettes don't get to be princesses. (Though actually it seems they now do...) In a way this is a coming of age story. Tiffany is now 'all growed up' and finds she has to prove herself to all the other witches. Prove she is worthy of her own 'steading' and not just a witch who is 'all right' but no great shakes.
I found this to be a very strong story. A lot going on in it, several plot strands going on at once, lots of humour, but also quite a serious book in many ways. It was also nice to have a very familiar cast once again. Not just Tiffany but The Wee Free Men and their queen, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg put in an appearance as do the The Night Watch from the Sam Vimes books. Odd though that when they put in an appearance in other books it's often not sympathetically and you find yourself against them rather than for.
All in all a stonking good read. I hope this isn't the last Tiffany book but if it is then this is a jolly good ending. I shall doubtless read them all again one day as, after the Sam Vimes books, they are definitely my second favourite Discworld series of books.