Fantasy Review: ‘Witches Abroad’ by Terry Pratchett

Part 12 of The Compete Discworld Reread

First things first, I must say my reading comprehension has gone up by quite a lot since I started reviewing all the books I read.  For instance I know I have read ‘Witches Abroad’ a half dozen times in my life and never once realized that the ‘Cinderella’ of the story (Emberella) was of mixed heritage.  In no way does this affect the story or the review, just jumped out at me for the first time.

Anyway….

Another book following Granny Weatherwax so you must know I am all in.  Continuing, and expanding on, the theme of stories gaining a life of their own, this time following fairy tales rather than Shakespeare.   Magrat inherits a magic wand and the duties of fairy godmother, as well as a long time battle with another fairy godmother.  She learns she needs to travel to Genua to stop the serving girl from marrying the prince.  The late godmother lets Magrat know she is not to bring Nanny and Granny along, so of course all three witches head to Genua.  Off to Genua!  And Magrat may have a chance to stop a story if she can get the wand set to something other than pumpkin.

A bit different from the last few Discworld books in that it doesn’t have competing stories fighting for space.  Instead it is firmly focused on the Witches journey and Emberella’s fate.  This should make it one of the more focused of the series, but I found it to be a bit uneven at first.  The traveling especially was hit and miss; providing some of the funniest portions of the story but dragging after a while.  Granny continues to be my hero when she takes on the card sharks in riverboat gambling (humming off tune and itching the inside of her ear the whole time).  Along the route they see the results of a godmother giving happy endings, with horrifying results (think Shrek 2). 

Once in Genua the story tightens up.  A perfect town is kept that way with an iron first (think Shrek 1. Wow, they had to have read Pratchett before writing those movies).  A practitioner of Voodoo has been holding the Fairy Godmother at bay but will need the Lancre witches to tip the balance.  Because if the resident fairy godmother has her way Emberella WILL marry the prince and there WILL be happily ever after, whether anyone wants it or not.  Both sides know they must now play within the story and each must figure out the best way to cheat within the framework.   Who is good and who is bad?  Is forced happiness real happiness?  Is Granny always the good one, and if so, does she really want to be?

Oh yes, some of my favorite parts for others to compare with their own: A small town deciding to stop the running of the bulls after the witches visit, Granny showing a voodoo doll can work both ways, and Magrat proving to be more mongoose than mouse.

I can’t be objective because the Lancre witches continue to be my favorite, and have been for years.  I also am fond of this book because it had one of Pratchett’s strongest endings, especially withen the sometimes inconsistent early books.  The only downside I see at all is the travelling, while funny, dragged a bit too long for my taste.

One last interesting fact, pointed out to me before I started rereading this book by another fan; all five major characters in this book are women, and the only male who really matters to the story is actually a cat.  Who else but Pratchett could do this so subtle that most wouldn’t even notice?

4 stars

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