Title: Wyrd Sisters
Place in series: #6 in The Discworld Series, #2 in the Witches Collection
Author: Terry Pratchett
Concerning spoilers: The Discworld Series is made-up of forty-one books that together form a world, but most can be read as standalone novels. I’m reading them in the order they were published. There will be no spoilers for this particular book. However, minor spoilers for previous novels in the series can occur.
For more information about The Discworld Series, and previous reviews, you can find my introductory post to The Discworld Series HERE.
Do you like Shakespeare? Do you know your Macbeth and Hamlet? If you do, you’ll feel right at home in this sixth installment of the Discworld series. Once again we’re back in the Kingdom of Lancre where we reacquainted ourselves with Esmeralda “Granny” Weatherwax, who we previously met in the novel Equal Rights (you can find my review HERE). This time, she’s joined by two fellow witches, Getha “Nanny” Ogg, and Magrat Garlick.
Wyrd Sisters begins with the murder of King Varence I by his cousin Duke Felmet, a crime in large planned and orchestrated by the Duke’s ambitious wife. During the commotion, a servant manages to escape with the king’s infant son. Realizing the danger, the three witches hide the boy with a group of traveling actors trusting that, when the time is right, destiny will bring the rightful king back to Lancre to overthrow the Duke.
What follows includes a time-freezing spell, a dead kings ghost, a homicidal cat, a fumbling romance, a fool, actors being actors, and an abundance of Shakespeare references.
Drama, ghostly kings, and Shakespearean plot twists aside, the witches, and especially their interactions with each other, are what makes this book so enjoyable.
Granny Weatherwax hasn’t changed much since her first appearance in Equal Rites. What this novel does is introduce two new characters to bounce her personality against. Characters who bring their own important qualities and perspectives to challenge and compliment Granny’s. This is especially true in regards to the character of Nanny Ogg. Magrat is an amusing and endearing character, but she is a reasonably new witch and therefore offers no real challenge to Granny.
Nanny Ogg, on the other hand, is her equal and opposite combined in one character. Where Granny is the typical crone: rough, severe, and a loner, Nanny is the embodiment of the matriarchal mother: big, warm, and socially gifted. In contrast to Granny who’s well-respected but feared, Nanny is someone the people of Lancre genuinely likes.
She’s had five husbands and been married to three of them, birthed fifteen children (one born ten years after the death of her last husband) and has a brood of grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and several daughters-in-law to boss around. She enjoys life to the fullest, never says no to a drink and often sings her vast repertoire of highly indecent songs. In short, she’s a blast.
She’s also crucial for the character of Granny Weatherwax; I believe that without Nanny, Granny would be an insufferable character. If you’ve read Equal Rites and didn’t like Granny, I think you should give this book a chance. Granny Weatherwax works much better as a character now that she’s a member of the Lancer Coven. She’s still a severe, judgmental, know-it-all, but having the equally grand personalities of Nanny and to some extent, Magrat to challenger her, forcing her to (somewhat) justify her actions and decisions gives her depth and helps make her a complicated and compelling character.
As for the plot, this is not a book that will surprise you. For the most part, the plot twists are recognizable miles away, but they’re supposed to be. I think Pratchett would be very disappointed if you didn’t see it coming considering the sheer number of hints and foreshadowing he’s weaved into the story.
Wyrd Sisters, more than any of the previous books, is an obvious parody of a specific theme: theater, Shakespeare, dramas, and, of course, witches. Predictable or not, it’s a highly entertaining read.
On a larger scale, I think Wyrd Sisters hints at a few important things for the Discworld Series as a whole.
I’ve previously touched upon Pratchett’s use of reoccurring protagonists and themes (and I undoubtedly will again), but I feel that with Wyrd Sisters, we are now slowly coming to a point in the Discworld Series when it begins to matter.
For example, the Rincewind books have a light, slapstick type of humor while DEATH’S books examine what it means to be human. Therefore, HIS books, although funny, are more philosophical, lowkey, and thought-provoking.
Wyrd Sisters establishes a tone and humor for this and future novels starring the witches that pay homage to a more classic and dramatic tradition. It intertwines fairytales with known themes and plots from the fancier performing arts and pits that against the very down-to-earth, hands-on, no-nonsense approach of the witches.
Because of this use of themes, Wyrd Sisters, a well-plotted and amusing book, is even more fun if you have an interest in or understanding of Shakespear.
Reading a Discworld novel is sort of like watching a Pixar or Dreamworks movie, you have the jokes everyone, young and old, laughs at, then there are the “special jokes” only mommy and daddy understands. The movie is enjoyable either way, but catching that “special joke” adds an extra layer to the experience.
However, this also means that on a personal level, you might enjoy some themes and characters more than others, I’ve certainly developed favorites. As the Discworld series now begin to establish genres within itself, you might find that you dislike novels starring the witches but love the ones with DEATH. Going forward, it might be a good idea to keep this in mind; just because one novel might not appeal to you, doesn’t mean the following one won’t.
That being said, I still believe the best way to approach this series is in chronological order. Even the novels I’ve enjoyed the least have added something that has enriched the overall experience.
Another way Wyrd Sisters impacts the series as a whole is that it firmly establishes what I see as one of its foundational locations. The Discworld is large, and the tiny Kingdom of Lancre becomes a familiar, stable place, one you as a reader will get to know and love.
Together with the city of Ankh-Morpork, Lancre becomes a home-base of sorts, someplace you feel at ease. In terms of world-building I find this quite effective and progressing further into the series, also quite helpful; with such a vast series, it’s always nice when a novel brings you home to Lance because you know the place, you’re comfortable there.
I have plenty more to say about how Pratchett uses locations like Lancre and Ank-Morphork and how they together create an interesting duality in the series. But, we’re not quite there yet, I’ll leave that subject for later reviews as it will undoubtedly become even more relevant as the series progresses.
Wither you like dramatic themes and Shakespearean plots or not, Wyrd Sisters is an entertaining read. The plot doesn’t surprise you, you can see the plot twists coming, but that’s the point.
The Duke and his wife are entertaining antagonists, the Duke especially as he succumbs more and more to his guilt-induced paranoia and madness.
Many of the other characters, like The Fool and Magrat, play their parts well. Granny, of course, is an impressive character but, for me, Nanny Ogg, and to some extent, her evil cat Greebo steals the show.
Pratchett’s writing and ability to craft a cohesive, exciting and well-paced plot continue to improve. I think Wyrd Sisters is the first book that hints were the series is going, and you can begin to see the outlines of a real idea behind all the outrageousness.
This makes Wyrd Sisters an entertaining book and the best written this far in the series.
My Rating: 7/10
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