Tiffany Aching is the Witch of the Chalk. It is her duty to make people's lives a little smoother with her magic and her ability to make medicines. But not to make their lives too easy. She also has to deal with other problems, like abusive husbands. One of the men discovered that his daughter was pregnant and nearly killed her with a beating, and his wife as well. Tiffany has to save his life by convincing him to flee the chalk before his fellow men kill him for what he has done.
After he takes off, she takes his daughter to the mound of the Nac Mac Feegles for some more healing from their Kelda, Jeannie. But she discovers that the girl loves being with the Nac Mac Feegle, and doesn't want to be separated from them, more, she can understand some of the secret language of the Kelda.
Concurrent with the problem of the girl, Tiffany discovers that people on the chalk are suddenly becoming distrustful of witches. When the Baron, lord of the village, passes on, Tiffany has to track down his son in Ankh-Morpork to deliver the news, only to be accused of killing the baron and stealing money from him by his nurse when Tiffany had merely come to take away the Baron's pain away. But the Chalk isn't the only place that seems to be coming to hate and fear witches, and Ankh-Morpork is being affected as well.
Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax track Tiffany down to tell her that her kissing the Wintersmith is having widespread consequences, one of which is the return of a spirit known as "The Cunning Man", a former witch-burner who has lost his body but is still looking for more witches to burn- and now, thanks to Tiffany, he has his eye on her, and is influencing people to hate and fear witches even more. Tiffany must team up with the only female wizard ever to come out of the Unseen University, an extremely intelligent man of the Baron's guard, and the affianced Bride of the new Baron to be to try and keep witches safe. But only she can deal with the Cunning Man and banish him back to the void- because if she doesn't do it on her own, she'll forever be known as the witch who couldn't cut it, and secretly be pitied by all the witches.
And she also has to decide several things about her own future and what she wants to do with her life besides being a witch. It's possible for a witch to get married (witness Nanny Ogg), but what does Tiffany really want for herself, and if she does want marriage and even children, who can she find that isn't afraid of her and her powers? And can she do all this while fighting the Cunning Man and keeping other witches out of his grasp?
This book is the final book in the Tiffany Aching series, and even though it's for young adults, the book talks about some very dark subjects- about abuse and the darker side of human nature, where you may owe someone, but feel resentment for owing them, rumors and jealousy, as well as the difficulty for women of being a woman and having a job without having one or the other taking over your life to the exclusion of all else. Yes, Tiffany is a witch,and a young one, but she also wants to be a woman and do other womanly things, and she feels a pang of what she might miss out on should she ONLY be a witch all her life.
But for a book that deals with some very dark subject and uncomfortable emotions, Terry Pratchett is also careful to leaven the book with a goodly dose of his usual humor. The Nac Mac Feegles are responsible for a lot of it, but the inhabitants of a shop for witches and witchly paraphenalia also brought a lot of humor to the party. And who doesn't love the Nac Mac Feegle, Scottish Faeries who spend their time stealing, drinking, brawling and getting into trouble?
I found the book entertaining, but also more serious than any of the Tiffany Aching books before it. Some readers may feel that the serious nature, aspects, and some of the foul language of the book are something they don't want their own teens/children to read- and that's okay. But adult readers will find much to enjoy here as well. Admittedly, the beginning of the book is somewhat rambling- maybe the result of Terry having to dictate the book rather than type it due to his Alzheimer's, but the book does a wonderful job of coming together in the end, and I found it a satisfying ending to the series. Recommended, but with some cautions for subject and language depending on the reader.