Review: The Wee Free Men

The Wee Free Men The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Note: This review was originally written in the early 2000s and published for a no longer running website: AudiobookCafe. This review is of both the book and the audiobook. Meet Tiffany Aching; her hobbies include making cheese, tending sheep, babysitting her two year old brother, gallivanting about with pictsies (the male version of pixies), learning the fine art of witchcraft, and saving said brother from the evil clutches of the Elf Queen. Yes, this endearing and intelligent nine-year-old does it all. “The Wee Free Men,” is another novel transpiring in Terry Pratchett’s alternative universe, known as Discworld. And like almost any other Discworld novel, you need not read any of his prior works to understand and appreciate this story, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Indeed, Pratchett keeps true to form with his usual wit and humor in this fun and light-hearted adventure.

Unbeknownst to dear Tiffany is that she has the skills and ability to become a witch: a feat very uncommon for the people of Chalk. After all, how can one that has come from chalk have the strength to be a witch? But her grandmother was a witch and she too has the knack. Before she can be taught by the witches, she must save her kidnapped brother. It is while learning about her potential future as a witch and searching for her brother that she is introduced to the Nac Mac Feegle, a clan of thieving and fighting blue pictsies who befriend Tiffany. Seeing the witch potential in her and fearing her abilities, they help her on her mission to save her brother. These rogue fairy creatures are not the brightest of beings and lack any magic of their own, but they certainly are amusing and provide sufficient comic relief. After several side adventures and dealings with rowdy pictsies as well as a talking toad, Tiffany manages her way to Fairyland where she must use all her skills to find and defeat the evil Elf Queen.

Stephen Briggs, a familiar name and voice to the Discworld series, does this book justice. He has narrated twelve prior books by Terry Pratchett and mapped out Ankh-Morpork and the Discworld as well as co-authored “The Discworld Companion.” He carries the story like an old pro who has resided in Discworld for many a year.

Briggs switches from young lass to a Scottish sprite with amazing ease. Even when dishing out some of the more difficult and exaggerated names, he delivers them with efficient speed and smoothness. During one section of the book, Briggs speaks so quickly and does so well, it’s reminiscent of “Who’s On First” by Abbott and Costello. He is a fantastic match for Terry Pratchett. While well done and observant, often Pratchett’s humor can take a while to get to the point or, be hard to pick up when reading through. Briggs skillfully keeps the story going while giving all the right cues and inflections for humor so the listener never misses a laugh. He manages to flesh out the various characters within the story that just by their mere words, one gains an impression of the person.

This is a book that is actually better in audio format. Much of the dialogue carries heavy accents, which can be hard to read. Internally hearing the dialogue through one’s inner voice can make reading it a much slower and more difficult process. However, in audio, the slang and poorly pronounced words (purposely on the character’s behalf) become much easier to understand and follow along. And besides stories like these have such a fairy-tale quality to them, hearing them is much more delightful than reading it on your own.

“The Wee Free Men” is a fun, light-hearted, and humorous tale written by a master of storytelling and delivered by a fantastic storyteller. It’s not a must-read, but certainly worth its while and a delightful way to pass the time.

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