I have said several times that Granny Weatherwax is my favorite character of the genre by quite a long ways. But it is in Lords and Ladies that I start to realize that Nanny Ogg gives her a heck of a run for the money. She may always play second fiddle to Granny, but at times there are clues that it may be because that is where she prefers to sit.
The formula is well established now; take a well known story, strip out a good portion of it while keeping what works on Discworld, set the most entertaining witches into it and watch the fireworks. A wedding is to take place on the eve of midsummer and the whole world is invited. Traveling from the University is a group including the Archchancellor and the library. Lancre preps in awkward ways, including an impromptu play but on by some of the craftsmen of the area (ie Carver the Weaver and Thatcher the Butcher, how did I miss this joke so many times before?). If the bride is less than happy it is not because she doesn’t want to get married, but damn it would have been nice to have some say in the matter.
But reality is rather thin, wannabe witches play with a few things they shouldn’t have, and Jason Ogg’s play suddenly gets too real. Next thing we know the village of Lancre has an infestation of nasty elves convicting people with glamour that maybe they are not that bad. Terrific and terrifying are just different sides of the same coin after all.
Somehow the formula for witch novels hasn’t gotten old yet, perhaps because Pratchett has felt little need to stick to the parodied stories very closely at all and maintains flexibility. The story starts strong, with Granny needing to deal with a new crop of wannabes led by a girl with some real power. She wins a witches duel in an unconventional way, in no small part due to the hidden strengths of Nanny. Nanny has no need for the spotlight (at least when it comes to magic; she actually uses her attention seeking ways to avert people’s eyes to her very real power). Magrat is wonderful in this book; wanting to mope around but realizing that it really isn’t her way. When elves attack she thinks she is channeling an old warrior queen, when in reality she is showing the same inner strength we have seen several times; strength that for some reason Magrat always seems to forget she has.
There was a rare danger of the cast growing too large this outing. Granny and the Archchancellor’s past was handled well and was very sweet in a melancholy way but I would have loved more scenes with them. Ponder and the Bursar are completely wasted in this story. I was also disappointed a bit by the ending, a giant Dues ex Machina that was somewhat saved by the smart route Nanny went through to achieve it. Granny looks like the hero in this one, providing the most impressive magic and most vocal resistance. But it is Nanny who thinks it all through and finds the solution.
The elves themselves were kind of boring villains but it didn’t really affect the enjoyably of the book. How to explain? The elves were like an agar for the protagonists to grow in. They provided the outlet for each character to do their thing, rather than doing anything themselves. Even the Queen was more useful as a way for Granny to push herself to the limit than she ever was as leader or scary villain.
A few jokes fell flat near the end but otherwise this is one of the funnier outings of the witch sub-series. I want to learn the bucket dance, loved Nanny playing footsie with steel toed books, and the Archchancellor going on about not being invited to his own wedding never got hold.
4 stars. Not one of my favorites but another very solid outing.