An enjoyable, funny read, but the best part was the characters and the way
they dealt with what they had to do.
The plot doesn't get in the way of the
story here. The book is more about the three witches and their way of
life. The plot centers around the disruption of their way of life, since
they don't care if the local ruler is good or evil - as long as he doesn't
bother them. But when things start to move against them, these three
witches go out of their way to restore the public's healthy fear and respect for
Granny Weatherwax is the main character here, as she was in the
last Discworld novel that featured her. She has Views, with a capital "V".
And it is hilarious the way she expresses these views. She won't move out
of the way of anybody, she takes revenge on anybody who crosses her, and she
knows how a witch should look and act in order to keep up the reputation of
witches everywhere. She doesn't have the patience to deal with all sorts
of occult symbols and devices -witches' magic doesn't need it.
And things shouldn't go around pretending to be things they aren't! The
best example of this is the funniest multiple-page sequence in the book, where
the coven attends a theatre in town. Granny can't figure it out -and
doesn't understand why an actor who was stabbed should be up and pretending to
be some other person later in the play! She talks throughout the whole
thing, wondering why the others don't know who killed the actor when she and the
whole crowd saw it happen!
And it comes back into play when Granny and the other two switch places with
three witches in the theatre near the end of the book, too! They don't
behave as the actors think the witches should, and Nanny Ogg ends up trying to
clean the cauldron prop!
Nanny Ogg is the oldest member of the coven, and happens to be the most
liberal, as well. Granny Weatherwax disapproves of the way Nanny Ogg got
married three times and now had a huge flock of a family. She drinks
heavily, smokes, and when inebriated, sings loudly about a Hedgehog, which was
always hilarious to read about. She always sighs wistfully when talking
about a man's "amenities".
The third member of the coven is Magrat, who, being the youngest, is the most
dedicated to the occult. Unfortunately, no matter how hard she tries, she
can't get warts to grow on her skin, her hair stays perfect, and she has a sweet
voice -completely un-witchlike. She studied under a witch who believed in
all sorts of occult jewelry, the proper manner in which to cast a spell, with
the proper components, the proper words and such, and discovers throughout the
book that the magic works even without them. But demons and the like
prefer it when it is done right!
Destiny is thrust in their hands when the heir to the throne is given into
their care as a baby by a dying man. It turns out that King Verence was
murdered (which is a good way for a king to go, but not if you cling to life, as
he does) by Duke Felmet. Verence still exists in the spirit world, and
haunts the castle, doing minute things like oversalting the Duke's supper!
The witches pass the young Prince, now named Tomjon because Granny wanted to
name him Tom, and Nanny wanted John, to a troupe of theatrical players, who
promptly leave town with the baby, nurturing him until he grows up. They
place his crown in a pile of crown props. I wonder about the wisdom in
that. Yes, it will be hidden. But any time somebody puts the crown
on, wouldn't they feel the same power Granny felt? Unfortunately, when Tomjon puts the crown on at the end, in the play, he doesn't feel anything.
I was surprised the crown wasn't thrown away because it was so plain.
The witches live fairly normal lives, and avoid being arrested using the same
tactics they have used for years -inviting the soldiers in for tea, scolding
them, healing them, and threatening them. All this is what makes the book
very interesting and insanely funny -not from silly or inane bits like in the
Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which bordered on stupid (the wrong side of
it), but in the way the author tells the tale. Granny has Views. The
Duke tries everything to get the blood off his hands, including sandpaper, a
file, and various other devices that get more and more coarse -he spends years
with bandages wrapped around his hands. The witches bicker in a way that
reflects reality in the way they are ignorant but will never admit it, they take
issue with the way each other lives their lives, and so on.
I started to get worried when the "great mind" of the kingdom was upset, that
something big was going to appear, supernaturally. Thankfully, it only
lasted a shot while, telling Granny that it was unhappy with the Duke as a
ruler. I liked Granny's thoughts when she saw the unlikely gathering: that
the small animals should bolt like lightning before the spell was broken!
I also was worried about the plot device used to get us fifteen years into
the future, but it turned out perfectly fine, and was interspersed with so many
humorous bits that it actually turned out better than fine. Granny takes
it upon herself to displace the whole kingdom by fifteen years, and uses Nanny
Ogg and Magrat to "refuel" her magic. It was rally a unique way to have
time pass. It did start to grow too large for the story, but the author
must have realized this as well, because just then Granny's broomstick started
to ice up! Or she would lose the parsley on the top of her in-flight
sandwich that Magrat had prepared. Not to mention Nanny Ogg flying drunk,
which was really funny, especially since Granny Weatherwax cites modern reasons
for not doing so!
I found the parts following the displacement to be a bit wearying, as there
was less humor, and I was not very interested in Tomjon or the dwarf Hwel.
The witches gave Tomjon three gifts when he was a baby, to make friends easily, to
have a perfect memory, and to be whoever he thinks he is. I wonder if a
lot of this is setup for future books, but they were displayed a little bit
here. He could truly inspire a gang of people to give up violence for a
short while! The description of the Thieves' Guild (perfectly legal) was
hilarious, especially when Tomjon convinced the thieves to pay him legal fees!
The players go to Lancre castle at the request of the Duke, who learns that
words can really stir people. He wants to rewrite history, and show that
he didn't kill the King. But when Granny Weatherwax figures out what the
play is up to, she and the other witches take their parts in it, and everything
goes strange. The Duke confesses, in his strange way, and even thinks he's
dead when he stabs himself with the gadget-dagger. He goes around haunting
the castle, even though he is still alive -until he falls out a window and Death
takes him away. It would have been nice to see what King Verence thought
about sharing the castle with the ghost of his enemy.
Partway into the story, Magrat and the castle's Fool (who graduated from the
Fool's Guild) fall in love. It is a strange love, mostly because Magrat
doesn't even know what love is. Several people notice how much he looks
like Tomjon, which made me think that the two might be related. It is
confirmed when the King reveals that he could communicate with the Fool from the
spirit world. Which makes it so strange that Nanny Ogg tells Magrat that
he is actually not of royal lineage. Surely if the Queen gave birth to him
(as is implied in the confusing dialog of the final page), everybody including
the King would have known. So he might still be of royal birth if the
line went through the Queen.
In any case, it was fun to see the relationship develop between the Fool and
Magrat, who is always using the "washing my hair" excuse not to see him.
So that when they are viewing the theatre together, he mentions that there is a
stall in the room with water in case she decides to wash it! And she
bursts into tears when Granny Weatherwax comments on her dirty hair at the end
because the Fool/King has not contacted her and she didn't want to be busy
in case he did. But afterwards it would turn out alright, I am sure,
because the Fool falls asleep on Magrat's floor at the end while she is
attending the coven meeting and getting drunk.
The humor in this book comes mostly in the way the author tells the tale.
He talks about things tongue-in-cheek, and gives inanimate objects character.
My favorite such instance involved the thunderstorm, which started the book as a
minor storm trying to impress the boss and get invited into the higher ranks,
practicing all the time, watching how the larger storms performed, and finally
developing into a huge storm by the end.
I wonder why the author did not use chapter breaks in this book. It
could have used them. Many times months or years go by in a single
sentence, with only a small section break -or sometimes without even that-
between them. Sometimes small break-lines were used when no time had gone
by at all. Still, the book was not disjointed because of it, just a little
It is the humor that held this book together. I don't know how good it
would have been without it. The parts featuring Granny Weatherwax, Nanny
Ogg and Magrat were the funniest, especially when they go against all
convention. Like when they all go as apple sellers to try and get into the
castle, even though the trick has never worked in its entire history. Or
my favorite, when Nanny Ogg was taken to the dungeons to be tortured, and is
introduced to all the machines by the ghost King, and is fascinated but not
scared by the Duchess and her ravings. I also liked Nanny Ogg's cat, who
has sired most of the cats in the kingdom!
The book kept a good meandering pace, never trying to get too complex, which
is good, I think. I rather enjoyed it, and look forward to reading the
next book featuring these three (presumably) characters.