I just read my first book for my Summer in Discworld challenge: Lords and Ladies, part of the Witches subseries. I seem to be reading Pratchett’s Witches books backwards. I read Maskerade first, ages ago. Lords and Ladies comes immediately before it, and there are at least two other earlier ones. But no matter–Discworld is fun in any order (but be warned, spoilers ahead for earlier books). I wound up here because it’s June, and I wanted to read Pratchett’s Midsummer Night’s Dream retelling for the Once Upon a Time Challenge.
It’s a very loose retelling. There are fairies and royalty and a group of rustics who are trying (without much success) to put on a play. Beyond that, there’s not much resemblance to the Bard’s story. Pratchett’s story focuses on three witches–Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick. They’ve just returned from a trip abroad (a previous book), and Magrat is due to marry King Verence (which she’s almost sure she wants to do). Meanwhile, there are mysterious crop circles popping up in fields, on heads of hair and in bowls of porridge; there are strange stirrings between the multiverses; and an ancient force is trying to break through from another world. Unfortunately, as Granny and Nanny know, elves are not nearly as nice as people want to believe…
The plot here is mostly just a vehicle for the characters–and they’re wonderful characters. Granny Weatherwax is a stiff old crone, in the most literal sense, terrifying for her sheer willpower more than for her magic, and fiercely protective of her kingdom and people. Nanny Ogg is ever cheerful, ever comfortable and good-natured, utterly incapable of being embarrassed no matter the circumstances and at home everywhere…but you somehow get the impression you don’t want to cross her either. Magrat is sweet and plain and lacking self-confidence–at least until she gets some inspiration from history.
There are a host of good supporting characters as well. Verence was originally trained to be a Fool and somehow wound up king (also a previous book), and is very sure that he can learn all he needs to about running a kingdom, handling people and getting married by reading the right books. The group of rustics don’t stand out individually (especially since they’re all known as Weaver the thatcher or Carpenter the baker or Baker the butcher, and so on), but they’re funny in their jumble–and they’re the closest connection to the Shakespearean play. The Wizards from Ankh Morpork’s Unseen University come to town for the wedding, and I liked them better than I have in any previous books–they’re finally starting to emerge as individuals to me. My favorite, though, is the Librarian, who loves books and happens to be an orangutan (a spell gone very wrong).
And the elves, well…they are actually genuinely frightening. It’s not at all a horror book, and I wouldn’t exactly say any parts are scary–but the concept of the elves, these smiling, beguiling people who see humans as animals, and wreak havoc and inflict pain for the fun of it…it’s quite a frightening concept.
I do have a few small criticisms. The book takes a good fifteen pages to get going properly. Pratchett likes to do philosophical prologues, and this book went through a whole series of scenes like that before we got to the witches (though Death had a good scene in this first section). The point of view jumps about wildly, which sort of bothers me but only in an academic way. It didn’t actually interfere with my reading, it was just something I noticed every so often and my literary instincts got upset. More difficult was his lack of speech tags in some places, so I had to go back and count lines to figure out who was talking.
But those are small criticisms. I enjoyed the book: there was some beautiful writing, excellet character development, good tension and, of course, humor. I wouldn’t classify it as a favorite Discworld volume, but I liked getting to know the Witches better, and I expect to continue reading their stories–though I haven’t decided whether to go back to the beginning, or keep going backwards!
Author’s Site: http://terrypratchettbooks.com/