“Witches Abroad” Review

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“You cant go around building a better world for people. Only people can build a better world for people . Otherwise it’s just a cage. Besides, you don’t build a better world by choppin’ heads off and giving decent girls away to frogs.”

I had to read this book a few years ago for a course that I took in fantasy literature, but I was so swamped with other reading that I don’t think I was able to properly appreciate how great it was until re-reading it. The story follows a young witch named Magrat Garlick, who is gifted a powerful magic wand by a witch/ fairy godmother named Desiderata Hollow after her death. She is given the task of ensuring that a young girl named Emberella from the magical land of Genua does not marry the Duc by the last night of the Mardi Gras festival, and accompanied by her two much older companions, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, the coven sets out on their journey. The ensuing series of misadventures are filled with humor, heart, and fascinating explorations of expectation and identity.

While at its’ core this is clearly a re-imagining of the story of Cinderella, this novel also has several clever allusions to other well known stories and fairy tales, including the Frog Prince, The Wizard of Oz, etc, and is at its’ core a story aboutstories. Pratchett consistently used this book to examine and deconstruct various tropes that we have come to expect from fantasy and turns them on their head by placing them in a city which polices people for not properly adhering to the archetypes which they are supposedly meant to fill in stories such a this. Because of the explicitly non-traditional style of this story, I was consistently caught off guard by the directions in which it went and was thoroughly entertained through-out thanks to how it masterfully balanced its’ humor and more serious contemplative moments.

This was primarily due to this novel’s greatest strength: its’ characters…more specifically, the main trio of witches. Magrat was very easy to root for as a young protagonist suddenly given a great deal of power and responsibility (and who’s greatest skill seemed to be turning things into pumpkins), and she created a fantastic contrast between herself and her senior mentors, who were by far my favorite characters! Granny Weatherwax was the perfect example of a stern, stubborn old lady who ultimately has a kind and protective heart, while Nanny Ogg was much more zany and silly. They gave off the same energy as when your especially quirky older family members come to visit and the banter and bickering between the two was just priceless:

“It’s a lion,” said Granny Weatherwax, looking at the stuffed head over the fireplace.
“Must’ve hit the wall at a hell of a speed, whatever it was,” said Nanny Ogg.
“Someone killed it,” said Granny Weatherwax, surveying the room.
“Should think so,” said Nanny. “If I’d seen something like that eatin’ its way through the wall I’d have hit it myself with the poker.”

This was the perfect novel to cap off October with, and it reminded me that I really need to invest more time into Discworld series as a whole. Pratchett was truly a master of crafting criminally charming and unique fantasy stories with extremely memorable character such as those found in this book. It was a very entertaining and easy read and if you need a break from all the fantasy novels filled with war and darkness and just need some good old fashioned fun, then I truly can’t recommend this story enough. 5/5

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