‘Wintersmith’, the third in the Tiffany Aching story arc, is one of the few books in this series that I have no recollection of from the first time I read it. With some of them, such as ‘Interesting Times’, I understood why as soon as I started reading again – they are far from the most exciting in the series. With ‘Wintersmith’ though, I don’t know why I didn’t remember it because it is in no way a weak link. As a Tiffany book, it more than stands up to comparison with the first two, and it also holds its own against most of the Discworlds in general.
When Tiffany inadvertently joins in a dance with the Wintersmith, the elemental who brings the season with him, he falls a little bit in love with her and spends his time trying to find out how he can become human to be with her. He’s not even Tiffany’s biggest problem; Granny Weatherwax is out to cause trouble with one of her many frenemies and Tiffany is caught right in the middle. The problems keep building for Tiffany and she meets every single one head on and fighting. That’s still my favourite thing about her.
The Wintersmith is a fascinating character, similar to the hiver of ‘A Hat Full of Sky’, but much brighter and therefore much more dangerous. To call him the villain of the piece wouldn’t be exactly fair – he is just an elemental force, one that has suddenly discovered a new and potentially scary emotion. There’s no doubt that he really thinks he does love Tiffany, who came leaping unexpectedly into his life, and his quest to find ‘what makes a man’ is a really fascinating one. I loved his interactions with humans, especially ‘the small ones’ who haven’t yet stopped believing in invisible creatures and magic. Even after he kidnaps Tiffany and takes her to the ice palace he has built for her, she still feels desperately sorry for him when he cannot be the human he wants to be. She even cries for him. The Wintersmith’s desire, in many ways, is no less than a lot of races on the Disc, who have been fighting these past thirty something books for the chance to be treated as nothing less than human.
I also really enjoyed the chance for Tiffany to get to know Nanny Ogg in this book, an interaction that has been sorely lacking up until now. When Tiffany has to go into hiding from the Wintersmith, she goes to Nanny’s cottage and is amazed to find that she isn’t expected to do anything except sleep in a soft bed and try not to make plants grow from under her feet (it’s a long story). Tiffany has spent enough time with Granny Weatherwax to know that underestimating someone like Nanny Ogg, who has managed to be Granny’s best friend for many years, is a bad idea and therefore they get along very well. Tiffany really feels like she can talk to Nanny, more than she has ever talked to anyone else, and I loved that she was given the chance to get all of her boy troubles off her chest, as well as a whole other lot of problems. In a previous book – don’t ask me which! – Nanny’s skill with magic comes from the fact that she is good at listening, good at getting people to open up. It’s a nice character detail for her that her abilities are revisited here at so innocuous a time.
The Feegles are once again integral to the plot of this book, this time training up Roland, Tiffany’s penpal and possible beau, in how to be a Hero. It is slow going, with Roland only knowing sword fighting from books, but they get there in the end. I enjoyed the chance to see all of the Feegles being paternal, but especially Rob, who you will remember I have a giant soft spot for. At the very end of the book, Rob gives a reading of ‘Where’s My Cow?’ the book that Sam Vimes shares with his son every evening. It is a nice parallel for the two characters, especially as Rob looks at his sons as he is reading and promises himself that his boys will be raised to read and write and never struggle with it. From a lot of angles, Rob Anybody is the Sam Vimes of YA Discworld and I for one have absolutely no problem with that!