(For more Pratchett reviews, see The Great Pratchett Reading Project Table)
After misfiring a bit in the previous Witches novel, Witches Abroad, Pratchett returns to form with Lords And Ladies, the story of the return of the Elves to the Discworld. Everyone thinks they know what elves are like. Sprightly, pointy ears, and prone to hug trees at any opportunity. The reality is, however, much different. The elves are self-absorbed bastards who love to torment humans and leave them with nothing. As the fabric between realities thins, the elves attempt to break out into Discworld and take over the kingdom of Lancre. Opposing them are the eponymous witches: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlik, who is about to become Queen of Lancre.
Lords And Ladies is filled with lots of humor, and has a few laugh out loud moments, something the previous Witches book lacked. The wizards Ridcully and Stibbons also play a fairly large role, and their hapless cluelessness lends a lot to the humor, especially Ridcully’s ‘understanding’ of what is basically quantum mechanics and how those ‘other’ Ridcullys never invited him to their weddings. In fact, the relationship between Ridcully and Granny lends a bit of melancholy to the story and allows Pratchett to explore how people deal with regret for the things they didn’t do in their lives (but that those bastards in other realities did).
Pratchett’s take on the elves is appropriately sinister, as they have no qualms placing a glamour on people and making them do their bidding. In fact, the only thing that can put the hurt on an elf is iron. Which is why the gateway to the elf dimension is guarded by a ring of iron stones. Of course they find a way through, with the evil and vicious unicorn leading the way. Not your typical unicorn, this one is mean and spiteful and not at all a happy horse. Although it has the same restrictions on it that regular unicorns have when it comes to certain people with unsullied virtue. Which leads to much humor as Granny is able to command the unicorn with little problems.
The typical Pratchett humor is in almost full force here. Lots of funny wordplay, humorous footnotes and puns are folded into the story. In fact, there are two puns in particular that stood out as they were totally unexpected and made me laugh. The first deals with Greebo as he tries to escape an angry Magrat, done up in full operatic heroine armor, in the Lancre castle’s armory. The other one happens near the end and is basically set up by the whole book, the story being just a means to get to this end, and it is a real groaner. But funny.
I only had two problems with Lord And Ladies. First, the beginning part of the book is a bit slow as we wait for the elves to make their appearance. Yes there is some good stuff there, especially the king’s ordering a ‘Marital Aids’ book which ends up being a book on ‘Martial Aids’ which helps the standing army, Sean Ogg, learn the martial arts, but the story doesn’t really pick up steam until the elves force conflict upon the kingdom. Secondly, for supposedly evil and malicious beings, the elves are surprisingly easy to kill. Magrat wreaks a path of destruction through them, basically because of her anger. Even the Queen is easily overcome, although an outside source had to come to Granny’s aid to stop her.
All in all, another good entry in the Discworld library, and one you could probably pick up and read without needing to have read the other books.