While enjoying my time road tripping through Uruguay, weeks ago now, I decided to start this little gem. Terry Pratchett has long been a soft spot for me and I don’t intend to grow out of fantasy any time soon, particularly this brand of silliness. Within a few pages I was hooked and I spent a lot of a ferry back to Buenos Aires in stitches and pestering my mate so I could read him snippets. This novel sort of works in two halves, it’s witches on the move and the havoc they cause in their wake, and then a sort of retelling of Cinderella. And this one is of course also about Fairy Godmothers.
Luckily, or unfortunately, (I haven’t decided) – Magrat Garlick inherits a late fairy godmother’s wand and the job with it. Weirdly, she is also given instructions to keep a princess turned scullery maid in Genua from marrying a Prince. You must remember that in the Discworld every fairytale cliche is about to get turned on it’s head and is about to have it’s ears well and truly boxed.
Where Magrat goes, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg go to, insisting on chaperoning the newly fledged Fairy Godmother (who unfortunately is having trouble producing anything but pumpkins from her wand). Weatherwax and Ogg insist that as they have had longer ‘not knowing’ what they are doing when it comes to Fairy Godmother-ing they are more qualified than Magrat to do Fairy Godmother-ing in the first place. But as we have well come to learn from the Discworld, all witches are stubborn so Magrat has little choice but to let them come along and they have little choice but to let her keep the wand. So off they all go, after an argument or two, flying away on broomsticks.
We spend a while entertaining Nanny Ogg who has brought along her cat Greebo along for the ride (an old, one eyed thing that terrifies everything that comes into his path and isn’t satisfied until he has maimed and raped anything of his choosing) and her attempts at speaking ‘foreign’ while sending postcards home. Granny Weatherwax at one point has to save the day when playing cards to win back all of their possessions which Nanny Ogg has accidentally lost in another game of cards. And of course, like all good holidays, they all get roaring drunk on absinthe, eat the local food, frighten the local children and complain loudly.
We spend a little time chasing well recognised fairytales, fleeting characters who just suddenly decide they want nothing else but to eat red riding hood. And a few other peculiarities that seem to cascade the closer the witches get to Genua. Granny Weatherwax also runs into an unfortunate family member and reveals a little bit of a soft centre beneath those hard outer edges covered in many vests and black lace.
I am quite a fan of Granny Weatherwax. I really enjoyed seeing a little bit of character development, a little bit more than all of those pointy edges and seemingly callous deflections. That outer layer is actually just hiding something a little more tender underneath.
I could just boil this novel down into a talking mirror and witches not letting a young girl kiss a frog. But I could also boil it down into some very entertaining old ladies wrecking utter havoc on the general public. This is a melting pot of a lot of well loved fairy tales turned upside down and stitched together in a new pattern that I believe works very well.
In short I really loved this novel! I would absolutely read this one again and Witches Abroad has shot up to the very top of my list of favourite Discworld novels. And I must add that this is also a very very good novel to take abroad, particularly if you don’t mind laughing hysterically to yourself in public.