Witches Abroad - Terry Pratchett

When times are tough, I read Terry Pratchett. When times are really tough, I listen to Terry Pratchett audiobooks. December was a really tough time.

The last time I listened in audiobook form was back in hospital in early '22, but to be honest this isn't the first audiobook I listened to. Immediately preceding it, I listened to Guards! Guards!, but I reviewed it (albeit briefly) previously, so I'm not posting another whole review.

Having said that, the reason I listened to Guards! Guards! first is because it's one of my favourites, and in the fourteen-odd years since that review I've read the rest of the Vimes sequence, and seeing the development of both Carrot and of Sam and Sybil adds a surprising amount to this retrospective origin story. I could say so much about Commander Vimes and Lady Ramkin, but instead I'll say how I really like how the joke about Carrot becomes a general open secret that he's the True King of Ankh-Morpork, but he's happier off defending the city in the form of a city guard, and everyone's ok with that. It's a Discworld outcome. Which brings me on to Witches Abroad.

Witches Abroad is a story about stories. In some ways, this is slightly meta, but with the usual Pratchett twist. The plot is that stories, fairytales, like to play themselves out in the Discworld, and the evil witch uses this to her advantage to achieve her ends, and the regular Ramtops crew of Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick must stop her.

Of course, in many ways the point of the Discworld is that it's a distorting mirror (initially of fantasy worlds, and then later in the series, more of ours), and the stories we read never quite fit the traditional pattern. The raison d'être of the Witches is that they (re)write the stories of those around them to be better than the fairytales.

On their journey to Genua the witches blunder through half-a-dozen-odd fairy stories, upsetting and fixing them either accidentally or deliberately. We're not talking subtle undermining, it's the theme. Genua itself is a change of pace, with a strong New Orleans theme, and the climax of the book is a show-down between mirror magic, swamp magic and Granny Weatherwax's "headology". All with a little ambiguity of what kind of meddling is appropriate along the way.

As a rule, I enjoy the Witches books, moreso than, say, the ones with Rincewind or Death. This is no exception. Beyond that, looking back, somehow not a lot stands out. Maybe there's just a lack of long-term development: they visit a far-away kingdom, save it, and go home. Still, a pleasant listen.

Posted 2024-01-25.