Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett
“If cats looked like frogs, we’d realize what nasty, cruel little bastards they are. Style. That’s what people remember. They remember the glamour.”
In Lords and Ladies, Terry Pratchett’s fourteenth DISCWORLD novel, we get to see what happened to the land of Lancre after Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick stirred things up and changed its fate in Wyrd Sisters. You don’t need to read Wyrd Sisters first to enjoy Lord and Ladies, but some familiarity with the witchy ladies might add to the enjoyment. Please note that in writing this review, I can’t help but spoil one aspect of the ending of Wyrd Sisters.
So (and here is the spoiler for Wyrd Sisters), Magrat Garlick, the youngest of our three witches, is going to marry Verence, the new King of Lancre. Therefore, a royal wedding is being planned. For entertainment, a troop of amateur actors will perform. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to anyone (but suspected by the sharp-witted and -tongued Granny Weatherwax), the evil elf queen has plans to appear at the wedding and marry Verence so she can be queen of Lancre. (She’s already married to the elf king but they are estranged.) The elf queen has been gaining strength in Lancre because a group of local young wannabee witches have been dancing naked near the iron standing stones in the middle of the night. The amateur actors (who include Carter the baker, Baker the weaver, Weaver the thatcher, Thatcher the carter, Tailor the other weaver, and Tinker the tinker) are also being influenced by the elf queen as they rehearse near the stones. (If some aspects of this plot sound just a bit familiar, that’s because Pratchett is again parodying one of Shakespeare’s plays. This time it’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.)
It’s up to Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick to set things right in Lancre once again and, as usual, they do so with much comedy, but also with an occasional deeper introspective moment. Granny is her usual direct and no-nonsense self who entertains us as she ridicules the young wannabees’ accoutrements (“Velvet hats and black lipstick and lacy gloves with no fingers to ’em”), impresses us with her powers, and even worries us as she contemplates her own mortality:
Granny Weatherwax had always wondered how it felt, what it was that you suddenly saw looming up. And what it turned out to be was a blankness.
People think that they live life as a moving dot travelling from the Past into the Future, with memory streaming out behind them like some kind of mental cometary tail. But memory spreads out in front as well as behind. It’s just that most humans aren’t good at dealing with it, and so it arrives as premonitions, forebodings, intuitions, and hunches. Witches are good at dealing with it, and to suddenly find a blank where these tendrils of the future should be has much the same effect on a witch as emerging from a cloud bank and seeing a team of sherpas looking down on him does on an airline pilot.
We also get to see a romantic side of Granny when she meets an old suitor (from the Unseen Academy) at the wedding. Nanny Ogg also gets a romance in Lords and Ladies; she’s being courted by a womanizing dwarf named Casanunda. “The harder you slapped him down, the faster he bounced back.” (The audiobook narrator gives Casanunda an Italian accent — hysterical!)
As a feminist, I think I loved Magrat’s story the most. When she becomes the king’s fiancée, she moves into an apartment in the castle and has to learn to live the medieval lordly lifestyle and do queenly things. She quickly becomes bored of being feminine and doing what’s expected of her (it’s all tapestries). Just when she’s ready to give it all up, she gets inspired by a painting of a warrior queen wearing, basically, a metal bikini. Meanwhile the king, who was not raised to be royal, is trying to figure out how to run a kingdom and how to be a husband. The How-To books he keeps ordering add much levity.
Fans of the magicians at the Unseen Academy will be happy to know that the faculty and the librarian have been invited to attend the wedding. They are concerned with the sudden appearance of crop circles which indicate that the walls between parallel universes (including the fairy universe) is thin.
Lord and Ladies is an amusing story full of Terry Pratchett’s memorable characters, absurd plots, and sharp witted cynicism about human behavior. It’s a fine place to start with DISCWORLD, though for maximum enjoyment you should read Wyrd Sisters first. The audiobook, which is narrated by Nigel Planer, is nine hours long. Planer is so perfect for the DISCWORLD stories — I love his hilarious performances. The audio quality, however, is subpar. I can hear a slight hiss in the background. I think that Audible is working on this problem with the DISCWORLD audiobooks. I’ve noticed lately that several have been taken down and put back up. I hope they can get this fixed, but even if they don’t, I still love DISCWORLD on audio.
Discworld — (1983-2015) Discworld is a satirical fantasy world created by Terry Pratchett to poke fun at 1980s fantasy novels. Since then, they’ve evolved so that they now make fun of everything. Mr. Pratchett explains Discworld: “The world rides through space on the back of a turtle. This is one of the great ancient world myths, found wherever men and turtles are gathered together; the four elephants were an indo-European sophistication. The idea has been lying in the lumber room of legend for centuries. All I had to do was grab it and run away before the alarms went off… There are no maps. You can’t map a sense of humor. Anyway, what is a fantasy map but a space beyond which There Be Dragons? On the Discworld we know There Be Dragons Everywhere. They might not all have scales and forked tongues, but they Be Here all right, grinning and jostling and trying to sell you souvenirs.” The Discworld novels are presented here in publication order. To read more about the Discworld “arcs” and reading order, see this Wikipedia article.
Discworld for Kids:
I really liked this one, partly because I’m a sucker for live theater. I really liked Granny’s meeting with her old flame, too.
I’m keen to tackle some Discworld books at some point (but there’s so many!). I’ve heard that Small Gods is one of the best, and has some interesting things to say about religion and belief. What’s your recommendation, Kat? Just start from the beginning?
I’m not the best person to ask. I’m still working my way through them. There are several places you could start. I think you could skip the first three, for example. Mort is a good place because it introduces Death. So is Wyrd Sisters and Guards! Guards!
Marion and Ryan, what do you think?
You can start wherever, really. Small Gods is a stand-alone, so you can read probably just read it. I always recommend Guards! Guards! for newbies.
We all know how much I love Small Gods so of course I would recommend it. I’d ditto Guards! Guards! and Wyrd Sisters. I agree that you can skip the first three for later.
Thanks for the tips, guys! That helps narrow it down quite a bit. BTW, any opinions on The Long Earth series co-authored with Stephen Baxter?
Yeah, Kate’s got that reviewed on the Pratchett page. Disappointing, she says.