Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett
Published in 1992
Genre: Fantasy, satire
“Now read on . . .”
Mystery abounds in Lords and Ladies, another entry in the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. Much like the first line, little is given in the way of direct explanation as to the strange and esoteric beings that give their name to the book’s title. A culmination of the events from previous witches stories, Lords and Ladies sees the return of Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlick as they face a dastardly and ancient evil.
Crop circles begin appearing on the Discworld when plants flatten themselves into circular patterns; as befits the magical protectors of the Disc, the witches begin to investigate, but without Magrat’s help. She is engaged to king Verence II (first introduced in Wyrd Sisters), though she doesn’t have much choice as it was less of a proposal and more of a statement. While the two elder witches seek to stop the source of the circles, Magrat is sucked into wedding preparations and forced into learning how to act like a queen. Magrat finds being a queen to be quite dull; she spends her hours at trying tapestry, being waited upon, and searching for ways to whittle away time.
Meanwhile, Granny discovers that a coven of young witches has been dancing around stones which weakens a protective field between Discworld and the world of the elves. Leading these novice spell-casters is a young witch who is much like Granny when she was that age – stubborn and looking to move beyond the stuffy, old-guard generation of witches. With the circles and barriers between parallel universes thinning, Granny sees flashes of what her life could have been and this causes uncertainty for her, adding further difficulty to her task.
Along with the nobles of the Discworld, wizards from Unseen University are invited to Magrat’s wedding and travel from Ankh-Morpork: the Archchancellor Ridcully, the Librarian (in orangutan form), the Bursar (who is essentially in his own world) and Ponder Stibbons (a young wizard who is more academic than his companions). They also notice the crop circles and thinning between universes, but are too preoccupied with memories of Lancre long ago (well, Ridcully is).
Despite the stereotypes of elves as magical, boisterous, and kind beings in fantasy books, they are actually terrifying creatures who believe they are above all other races; the Queen of the elves wants to return to the Discworld and take over Lancre. Elves have the ability to use a glamour (or glamour…apparently the U.S. and England spell it the same) that makes humans think the fay folk are beautiful, but they are gruesome, sadistic, and menacing. The title of the book comes from another name for elves; they are also called the gentry and have a tendency to appear when spoken of.
Two of Nanny Ogg’s sons, Shawn and Jason, have larger roles surpassing their mere mentions in previous books. Shawn is the only guard of Lancre castle and does a lot of the dirty work (part of being the only guard); he tries to fulfill the duties of an entire regiment of guardsmen and Verence, who is learning how to act like a king from books, accidentally orders a book about “martial” arts instead of “marital” arts; he gives it to Shawn Ogg to cover his mistake. Jason is the local blacksmith and is charged with performing entertainment at the wedding, which happens to be a play by Hwel, and accidentally brings the wrath of the elves down upon Lancre. Lords and Ladies picks up after Witches Abroad which should be read (along with Wyrd Sisters) before this book to be caught up with the events and characters.
There is great tension in Lords and Ladies; when Magrat is being chased by elves, it is akin to a horror novel with suspense built in. Then a wonderful reversal occurs after Magrat sees a warrior queen’s portrait and finds her armor (or armour). It is this realization (or realisation) that allows her to take up the mantle of queen since she learns that being a dainty figurehead isn’t the only option.
I was genuinely surprised by the way that Pratchett takes the idea of elves and turns them on their malevolent little heads. There is a shift in tone when the elves enter the fore and some high stakes come into play, which is what I have been waiting for in the witch books. Lords and Ladies maintains Pratchett’s whimsical voice, but is able to delve into the dark when necessary without undoing the general themes and plot. I typically enjoy Prachett’s work, but this was one that soars above in its execution.
Verdict: 4 eerie elves out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of Terry Pratchett, those reading the Discworld series, fans of satirical humor (or humour), those who enjoy tropes being turned on their head, people who have read or seen A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and fans of Granny Weatherwax.
Not recommended for: Those without a sense of humor (or humour), enemies of Terry Pratchett, the Lords and Ladies, Shawn Ogg’s arm, Ridcully’s romanticism, or elf enthusiasts.