Monday, 31 May 2021

Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett

A fairy godmother with an important mission has passed on, leaving her wand and quest in the hands of the well-meaning but inexperienced Magrat Garlick. Magrat teams up with Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax to travel to the distant city of Genua to stop a fairy tale coming true, which seems a bit off until the witches meet the other fairy godmother and learn that "happy ever after" can be a curse as well as a blessing.

Witches Abroad is the twelfth Discworld novel and the second to focus on the coven of Lancre witches (also the third to feature Granny Weatherwax). With their native village of Lancre recovering from the events of Wyrd Sisters, Pratchett decides to send the witches off on a jobbing holiday. This results in a book of two halves: the first, where they travel across the Disc to Genua, and the second where they confront the "bad guy" in Genua itself. The first half is a splendid romp as the witches visit castles, villages and dwarf mines and meet wolves and vampires. Pratchett can be good at travelogues and this is one of his better ones, and the trail of inadvertent chaos two "little old ladies and a wet hen" leave across the continent is most amusing.

Events in Genua take a cleverer turn, where the witches encounter a mash-up of Baba Yaga, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella in the Disc's version of New Orleans, complete with voodoo magic, zombies, alligators and some amazingly good food. It sounds odd but it works surprisingly well, and breaking the story in two in an already-short novel (under 300 pages) means the story cracks on with impressive pace. There's balls and glass slippers and lots of gumbo as the pages fly by.

The book features some of Pratchett's better one-novel-only characters, like Mrs. Gogol, Baron Saturday and Lily, as well as the formidable Legba. We also get a larger focus on Nanny Ogg than in the previous witches novel, and a much larger role (so to speak) for Greebo, Nanny's debauchedly murderous cat. Also look out for the debut of Casanunda, master swordsman and the world's greatest stepladder-assisted lover and/or liar.

Witches Abroad (****) is a free-wheeling book that mashes together influences from wildly different sources and creates a highly entertaining novel out of the results. The book is available now in the UK and USA.

I previously reviewed the novel here.

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