…whoops. I sort of forgot to write a review of this one. That… probably doesn’t bode well.
To be honest, though, A Hat Full of Sky isn’t a bad book really. It’s just, I think, that I’ve run out of things to say. This is the sequel to The Wee Free Men, and to be honest most of what’s true about the earlier book is true of this one too.
In terms of differences, the biggest change is that Pratchett has here largely excised the strongest parts of the earlier novel (the extended flashbacks to Tiffany’s semi-mythologised grandmother)… and has produced a better book as a result. The highs are perhaps less high, but the whole is now more even and flowing in tone.
The book is, like its predecessor, more polished than many Pratchett novels – perhaps too much so – and slightly annoying in how avuncular it is. There’s very little here that really seems new. One change is that Tiffany feels much older here than she did – a mistake in a way, since it doesn’t fit the internal chronology of the books, but beneficial I think to the readability. It makes Tiffany a more relatable, and less erratic, character. It does feel to me, however, like a disappointing attempt at writing a teenage girl, as Tiffany is rather more cliché, and more unbelievable, than he managed years before with Susan in Soul Music.
It’s also worth noting that the novel goes surprisingly dark at points – but that may be intentional. It feels like the sort of gothic gruesomeness (and my word is it gruesome!) that Pratchett would feel that children would enjoy…
The ending is even more Symbolic and Important than in the previous novel; the pacing is slightly better, but it also makes less sense, which is even lampshaded by the characters themselves. Pratchett often treads the edge of dream-and-story-logic, but here I feel he falls over the edge, and I’m left not really being able to fully empathise, as I’m unsure what’s going on exactly and what things are and aren’t possible.
I don’t mean to be too critical, I ought to say. It is a very accomplished book, and probably better than the one that came before. It’s just… you already know about all the things that Pratchett does well.
Sooo…. don’t really have anything else to say…
Adrenaline: 3/5. The ending lost me a bit, but there’s some good tension throughout.
Emotion: 3/5. Par for the course. There were some emotive bits, but nothing brought me to tears… Tiffany is getting easier to care about, though.
Thought: 4/5. The overtly philosophical symbolism may be wearying at times, and Pratchett as usual relies more on force of conviction than on intellectual subtlety… but to his credit, this is an intentionally mind-stretching book that always keeps the reader thinking.
Beauty: 5/5. Some great writing, as we can expect.
Craft: 5/5. Yeah, maybe the end needs tightening up somehow. But overall I think the book is exactly what Pratchett wanted it to be… and there are very few authors who could have written it that way.
Endearingness: 3/5. I liked things about it. But it’s not distinctive enough to me. And… OK, let’s be honest, I just find the Feegle really irritating, a few good jokes aside…
Originality: 3/5. Well, you can’t really predict the ending. But on the other hand the book does lean heavily on established formulae and expectations.
Overall: 5/7. GOOD.
Works out to a little worse than The Wee Free Men, numerically; unusually, however, I think that the numbers are wrong, because actually it’s A Hat Full of Sky that’s the better of the two. It loses out in these scores because it was less emotional for me, while its improved craft, endearingness, adrenaline and originality are all too small to result in a shift in any individual score; but the positives mount up across the board to a significant improvement.
Like the earlier novel, I don’t feel that this really stands out from the shadows of Pratchett’s more complicated, more adult works. However, it’s clearly a very well-made addition to the cycle, which may be of particular interest for younger readers.