Top critical review
Far from Terry's best, with but a few moments of hilarity
on December 8, 2001
This is far from my favourite Pratchett fare. It pales in comparison to the other books of his I've read, especially in direct comparison to the other Witches' adventures. "Wyrd Sisters", which Terry proclaims in the Author's Note is prerequisite reading before delving here, was a more exciting adventure for Granny Weatherwax and her curious coven to undertake. "Lords and Ladies" feels like a derivative retread. And "Wyrd Sisters", which deconstructed "MacBeth", brought more insight into its Shakespearean source than this does for "A Midsummer Night's Dream".
Witness his treatment of the character of the Fool, so strong and vibrant in "Wyrd Sisters". He is little more than background material here, a bureaucratic imminent king, indifferent to his fiancee's perspective, and caught up in the ritual of his duty. I suppose something could be said for the themes brought out by his transformation from Fool to King, but it didn't interest me one bit. Except for one bit where it is discovered that the Fool, so accustomed to sleeping curled up in a ball outside the King's door, can't truly get used to his new status and thus now sleeps curled up in a ball on the other side of the door. It's a beautiful little moment.
One character who does make a strong impression is second-Witch-in-command Nanny Ogg. Her down home malapropisms and sunny (but implicitly precarious) demeanor make her a joy to read. Late in the book, she is teamed once again with Casamunda, the self-proclaimed second greatest lover in the world and incessant liar. Watch her skillfully fend off his advances; watch him quickly get back on the horse for another go. I'd love to see what Pratchett could do with these two over a whole book. It at least broke up the (soon-to-be) monotony of watching Granny Weatherwax grouch her way through another typical adventure.
The central conceit here is that elves, previously believed to be cute and cuddly creatures in popular mythology, are really evil. Terribly evil. Unspeakably evil. When elves are around "life was certainly more interesting... but usually it was shorter. And it was more colourful, if you liked the colour of blood". Okay? So? I don't think Terry does much with this notion. The elves he concocts are not frightening at all, at least in comparison to other Discworld villains. And the final confrontation feels like every other final confrontation Granny Weatherwax has been involved in. The lack of suspense was a surprising discovery. To me, this is Terry's first true misstep in the Discworld series.
Although I thought little of the story, Terry's sense of humour remains intact. There are many fine examples to choose from, but here are a few of my favourites:
.. a delicious footnote about the naming adventures of the Carter family, ends with Hope Carter becoming a depressive, while Bestiality Carter is generally kind to animals.
.. a word that beings with 'M', that means "seein' the other person's point of view"? Empathy.
.. More fun with Latin: "Il Porcupino Nil Sodomy Est" is, I think, a nod to true hardcore Internet Pratchett fans.
.. the New York second (defined as the time between when the light turns green and the cab behind you honks)
.. "Magrat says a broomstick is one of them sexual metaphor things" (although this is a phallusy)
Terry amazes, yet again, with his verbal gymnastics. I just wish he'd tacked them on a worthwhile story. I guess one sub-par book in fourteen (so far) is not a bad ratio. Don't worry about skipping "Lords and Ladies" on your way through the Discworld catalog. You won't miss much.