Details: (c) Terry and Lyn Pratchett 2004; Pub Corgi 2005; ISBN 0-552-55144-9
Verdict: A hat full of sky is both exciting and profound.
Reasons for reading it: I left the book I'm actually reading at work, and didn't want to be without anything to read for a whole weekend, so I picked up something light to tide me over.
How it came into my hands: atreic found herself with insufficient space for all her books, so she was giving away duplicates and less beloved ones at her party. Thank you atreic!
I enjoyed A hat full of sky a great deal, even though it's a sequel and I haven't read the first half. It is set on Discworld, but you don't really need to be familiar with the Discworld mythology to appreciate it, it works as just generic olden times with magic. Perhaps even more than the adult Discworld books, it has a really nice mix of original concepts with standard fantasy / fairytale tropes. It pulls off the rare trick of mixing an archetypal myth with an engaging personal story, which is a great strength. And it's exciting, and just the right level of scary, and surprisingly emotionally compelling in places. I don't find Pratchett rip-roaringly hilarious, but I don't hate his sense of humour either, and I think it would work well for a reader just at the age when they're starting to be aware of parody and playing with expectations.
Tiffany is a good viewpoint character, she's special without being a Mary-Sue. I like the fact that she makes mistakes and gets frustrated, and is likeable enough to root for without being too soppy to be believable. The plotline with the Hiver is a very nice allegory for the early stages of puberty, the sense of being taken over by a monster and coming to terms with the fact that the rage and lashing out are part of you. I wonder if it isn't too heavy-handed for a reader who actually is that age, though, especially since it sometimes slips into being a bit preachy about how a witch always has to Do the Right Thing even if she doesn't get much reward or recognition. There's also some good writing about teenage girl cliques, but I think I found that kind of depiction rather cringey when I was actually living through it. And I wish the finding a boyfriend sub-plot hadn't been there, it's only minor, but it's very patronizing and annoying.
I definitely liked the way that aHfoS grapples directly with real moral issues. It actually talks about death (yes, there's the usual Discworld personification who talks in capitals, but it's much more than just that) and real povery and misery. Tiffany doesn't win the day by the sheer force of protagonist power, and things don't just magically work out right for the good guys. Actions have consequences; some of them are a bit softened, but the book is definitely aware that Tiffany got away with things she might not have got away with. Even as an adult reading a kids' book, there were moments when I was really emotionally caught up in the story and even a bit scared, there are sections that are very atmospheric.
The thing with the Nac Mac Feegle feels like a joke that's been over-stretched, perhaps left over from the earlier volume. It's kind of a cute idea to have fairies who are bellicose and drunk instead of pretty and twee, but once that point is made it doesn't really go anywhere. I couldn't make up my mind about the mock-Scottish aspect; Pratchett often skirts dangerously close to ethnic stereotypes, and I'm not totally convinced the Wee Free Men fall on the right side of the line. Still, the jokes at their expense are less unkind than they might be, and they are shown to be noble in their own way.
I think the thing where Pratchett does light fluffy entertainment, yet packs a real philosophical and emotional punch, is even more apparent when he's writing for kids.