There are numerous things that people might associate with British culture, but certainly one of the larger ideas is monarchy, aristocracy, and the pomp and circumstance that goes hand in hand with place in society. Taking the piss out of this thinking in a way that only the Disc and its unique offerings can is Terry Pratchett’s fourteenth Discworld novel, Lords & Ladies (1992).
The Witches are in disarray—at least more than usual. Magrat Garlick has foregone her status as witch in order to marry king Verence in the (mini-)kingdom of Lancre. A gap left in the ranks, outsider Agnes Nitt uses the opportunity to gain a seat at the table, allowing she and cohort Diamanda Tockley to start their own coven. The coven discovered cavorting naked near a strange circle of stones, threatening to open a portal to the world of dark elves, Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax decide to take action lest Magrat’s wedding be overtaken by supernatural events. The wizards, including Ridcully and Ponder Stibbins, invited to the wedding, a clash of pointy hats, kings, queens, elves, and one orangutan seems imminent.
As hinted in the intro—and the title, Lords & Ladies (lightly) tackles the sense of place and class, the monarchy of Lancre the backdrop. Magrat Garlick the centerpiece, her transition from ordinary hedge witch, treating flus and rubbing moss on burns, to regal queen, complete with knowledge of proper silverware and fashion, is where the book earns its stripes. Nanny Ogg, Granny Weatherwax, the wizards, and a few, odd local characters find their places, as well, it’s a real romp.
Which is a good time to discuss what makes Lords & Ladies singular. One could argue it’s the way in which the book both wholly embodies the stereotypes of epic fantasy, and subverts them as only Discworld can. About the only thing missing from the standard repertoire are dragons, the rest—castles, kings, queens, wizards, swords and shields, witches, magic, elves, dwarves—all exist. But for as much magic as the wizards may purport to know, the wisdom is anything but Gandald-esque in nature. The witches do have pointy hats, but there are needle and thread and birdsnests tucked inside, no hideous spells or magic wands. And kingdom has its rulers and castle, but the knights—ahem, knight—defending it, and the king ruling it, do not derive from fairy tales. Sean Ogg a bumbling jack of all trades, and King Verence not quite there when you need him to be, means Pratchett has a chance to tip over the apple cart of stereotypes we are all familiar with in a hilarious but, as always, pointed way.
In the end, Lords & Ladies is a Discworld novel that threatens to slip through the cracks. It doesn’t have a strong lead character like Tiffany Aching, DEATH, Rincewind, etc. It doesn’t have a unique setting. And it doesn’t receive the same amount of online love as many other Disc novels. But don’t let that fool you. Fourteenth novel in the series, Pratchett was in full bloom, the humor subtle and outstanding (even as Casanunda’s courting of Nanny Ogg is laugh out loud funny), the wit on point, and comes recommended to anyone, no prior Disc experience needed.