Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett is the 14th novel in the Discworld series, and the fourth in the “Witches” subseries. Unlike most other Discworld novels, this book begins with a note from the author suggesting you read some of the previous “Witches” novels before starting this one. This novel begins right where the last one, Witches Abroad, left off, and also continues plot threads from Wyrd Sisters, the novel before that.
Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlick have returned home to the small kingdom of Lancre after their journey abroad, only to find trouble afoot before they can even settle back in at home. Magrat finds that her potential husband-to-be Verence II, the former Fool made King, has fast-tracked a lot of their wedding arrangements without her input. Meanwhile, crop circles are appearing all across the kingdom; it seems somebody has been dancing around some stone circles, inviting the return of the elves. While remembered fondly in the minds of people, their return only spells trouble for everybody living on the Disc.
I feel in a bit of an odd spot with this book, as I often find myself when reviewing yet another Discworld novel. There’s much I like about it that I’ll get to, but I feel it bears pointing out (as I believe I’ve done before) how formulaic it is. This is the 14th novel in the series, and while Pratchett often demonstrates his ability to tell a great story in this world, regardless of release date, a number of these novels do follow a familiar skeletal structure. Namely, some sort of magical anomaly is taking place that is the harbinger/cause of an extradimensional force invading the Disc, and our chosen cast of characters must put a stop to it, with some madcap situations along the way. Though it’s a reductive summation of this novel as a whole, it’s not inaccurate. Going in I had hoped it would be something more than this, and while it is not a bad story, I was still a little disappointed by it.
Where I will give this novel some more credit in this respect is the credibility of the villains; the titular “lords and ladies.” There are numerous nonhuman peoples living on the Discworld, but we never really hear mention of elves. In this story Pratchett crafts a version of the faerie folk that captures their typical, mystifying nature while also presenting them as completely terrifying. They are long-lived and powerful, but the beauty, grace, and perfection humans see when beholding them, or even just remembering them, is all glamour. Led by the capricious Elf Queen, they’re utterly malignant and see the world and other people as beneath them; theirs to exploit and torment. It’s not the typical fantasy portrayal of elves, but their representation was in line with familiar lore. They were a threat I took seriously throughout, lending some weight to an otherwise rote storyline.
The trio of witches were as delightful to read about as ever. Though Death is my favourite singular character, I think I enjoy reading about the Witches the most as a group. Though she shares the spotlight a lot more, I really liked Granny Weatherwax’s story in this book. She’s possessed of her usual self-confidence and commanding personality, but circumstances have her contending with a lot of uncertainty too. I actually found myself worrying about what her fate would be, which was refreshing for the character. We also get more of a humanizing glimpse into her past as a young woman, which reveals a personal history she had with recurring character Mustrum Ridcully, the archchancellor of the Unseen University. Though she’s ultimately fairly static as a character, befitting her stature, I enjoyed seeing it compromised a little by uncertainty.
The real star of this novel was the youngest witch Magrat, who has many changes thrust upon her from the outset of the story. I was most pleased with this element of the story because I thought she was a little underdeveloped in Witches Abroad. That novel emphasized Granny’s seemingly antagonistic relationship with her, often calling Magrat a “wet hen” with no assertive nature or confidence, but it did little to remedy this. This novel sees Magrat forced to reckon with many imposed changes, some of which she does actually want, and learn to stand up for what she really wants out of life and carve her own destiny. I was pleased that she was finally given a chance to grow as a character and solve problems by her own initiative, adding some more complexity to her relationship with Weatherwax along the way.
Lords and Ladies is an enjoyable continuation of the “Witches” storyline, though it has more value as a tying up of loose ends for the characters than a plot that stands firmly on its own. The elves are well established as a villainous force, but they serve more as a catalyst for the characters to deal with their own problems. The cast is so strong that I really don’t mind a weaker plot, though. Pratchett’s comedic writing is strong as always too, balanced with some genuinely heartfelt and sentimental moments.
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5