Fantasy Review: ‘Wyrd Sisters’ by Terry Pratchett

Let’s start with a protagonist who is a cranky, elderly woman who no one much likes, Granny Weatherwax.  Give her a best friend, an overweight elderly lady with absolutely no personal inhibitions, one Nanny Ogg.  Need a beautiful young lady to grab the reader’s attention?  Too bad, you get shy, plain Magrat, third of the witches of Lancre.  It is a fantasy novel so perhaps we need a strapping young man with a destiny?  Nope, we get a lonely, miserable, court jester.   Add all this together and you get one of my favorite books of all time.

While the book is something of a parody, or perhaps homage, of ‘Hamlet,” I will admit I had not read the play the first time I read it and felt that I missed nothing.  Bad things are happening in Lancre, and a baby ends up in the care of Granny Weatherwax and her coven of three.  When henchmen demand they hand the child over, Granny refuses on general principle.  Sending this mysterious child of destiny off with a traveling group of thespians, the witches think their part is done.  Unfortunately, the new king of Lancre (formally the Duke of Lancre, and who was defiantly NOT THERE when the old king died) sees the witches as being in the way of his plans for the kingdom.

How a book so short and easy to read can weave so many plot lines is beyond me.  The fool’s courtship of Magrat is a study of sweet buy awkward love.  The new king Felmont has to deal with both his conscience and his wife’s lack of one.  One poor dwarf has to deal with a constant stream of inspiration.  And Granny has to decide the best way to keep from using her power, lest her power take control of everything.

Pratchett is at his best when he keeps the humor subtle.  This book is one of the shining examples.  Felmont’s attempts to ‘get the blood of his hands’ are constantly amusing.  When Nanny gets captured everyone is worried something terrible will happen, yet no one seems much concerned about Nanny herself.  The fool’s courtship of Magrat, and Magrat’s complete lack of knowledge on how to handle it are some of the books best moments.  There are a few easy Shakespeare references, but there is also a complete destruction of a play that is flat out hilarious.

And when it comes to characters the Witches of Lancre are some of the best around.  Granny Weatherwax is my favorite character in fantasy.  The hidden power in her could overwhelm, but her control on when to use it is a constant struggle that is great to watch.  Nanny Ogg is often played for comic relief, but her strength often comes from people underestimating her because of that.  Magrat is shy, awkward, and never taken seriously by anyone, but is always resourceful when it counts, even if nobody ever notices.

Favorite moments?  Playing I-spy while interned in a dungeon, Death getting stage fright, trying figure out just where Thespia is, poor old ladies just-gathering-wood-thank-you-very-much-do-you-want-directions or not?  Oh, and a poor guard deciding that he is supposed to keep witches out, not apple sellers, nobody said anything about apple sellers.

‘Wyrd Sisters’ isn’t going to change your life.  There is nothing inherently deep about it, nor does it do anything truly original.  But it is one of the best examples of mixing humor with a story line around, and remains one of my favorite books ever through yet another re-read.

5 stars.  Best book of the Pratchett re-read yet.

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