Saturday, 18 May 2013

Terry Pratchett's Discworld 14- Lords and Ladies

Lords and Ladies
Corgi Press
Terry Pratchett

"There was something about the eyes. It wasn't the shape or the color. The was no evil glint. But there was... ... a look. It was such a look that a microbe might encounter if it could see up from the bottom end of the microscope. It said: You are nothing. It said: You are flawed, you have no value. It said: You are animal. It said: Perhaps you may be a pet, or perhaps you may be a quarry. It said: And the choice is not yours." 

Right, so where were we? Well, after my superlative-filled review of my favourite Discworld book, Small Gods, the next installment moves from a one-in-done set of characters and story lines to return to three of the series' more popular characters, the Witches of Lancre (although how do you split between them, Rincewind, The Watch and Death?). We last saw Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlic only two books ago in Witches Abroad, as they went on a trip to the city of Genua, where they freed the fairy-tale version of New Orleans from the grip of none other than Granny's sister, Lilith, and her dastardly plot to control it through the power of unavoidable narrative causality.

While Pratchett tends to slyly incorporate somewhat metaphysical references to the power of stories in  all of his books, the first three Witches books are, I think, the most relevant to this. In Lords and Ladies Pratchett is at it again, returning from fairy tales to the Shakespearean territory of Wyrd Sisters and of certain aspects of fantasy in general. After the coven return to their very magical and very backwards home country of Lancre they're quickly forced to deal with their most dangerous threat yet; a group of appropriately idiotic young witches (including future character of importance Agnes Nitt) have opened the dimensional gates to the pocket universe of the elves. What happens next is essentially a tongue-in-cheek version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, where the author plays with the general expectation of fantasy fans and the typical portrayal of the humble Elf.

Over the course of my life and the Internet I've encountered a fairly large number of people who consider Lords and Ladies to be another Pratchett classic and perhaps the pinnacle of the Witches series. I, however, am not one of those people, but I think I've figured out why. Pratchett's prose and sense of adventure are sharp as ever, and he continues to develop the characters well. For Magrat Garlic (youngest witch of the three and also fiancee to King Verence and thus future Queen of Lancre), this is somewhat of a coming of age story where Pratchett finally pushes her forward as a competent and powerful woman. Meanwhile, Granny Weatherwax is pushed even more as an unbeatable magical force as she faces her deadliest opponents yet. The problem for me is that I think a lot of the subtext to this book relies on the reader knowing and embracing the typical J. R. R. Tolkien portrayal of elves as graceful, beautiful and heroic so that Pratchett can turn it on its head and make them the most vicious of all bastards.

I get the concept of the danger of an evil Legolas, but, despite currently reviewing a fantasy book series that's got about forty installments, I'm not a great fan of fantasy for fantasy's sake, and so the satirical aspect left me a little cold. It's the same for Midsummer Night's Dream really, I do like some Shakespeare but that one never particularly appealed. Anyway as a result of all this I didn't find Lords and Ladies brilliantly funny, nor did the villains stick in my mind to the same effect as Lily Weatherwax or say, Coin of Sorcery. Similarly, Pratchett does quite a similar version of this story replacing elves with vampires in Carpe Jugulum, the twenty-third book, which I rather preferred due to my propensity for indulging in vampire fiction outstripping that of elves by a billion to one.

So, in conclusion, Lords and Ladies isn't one of my personal favourites simply because I don't care for the subject matter as much as I do a typical Discworld novel. That isn't to discourage anyone from reading it; in fact, if you're a big fantasy,Tolkien or Midsummer Night's fan then run out and get it right now. Or use Amazon, whatever.