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I last said I was reading Hyperion, but after about 180 pages, I found it too dreary to continue without a break. Maybe I'll never finish it. Regardless, I picked up what promised to be the funniest book on my shelf that I hadn't read yet.

Given how much I enjoyed two Discworld novels (I'd read three, but the first was merely OK), you'd think I wouldn't wait nearly four years to pick up another. Granted, Terry Pratchett's collaboration on Good Omens may have tided me over.

As you may have guessed, this volume owes a lot to Macbeth, among other classic inspirations. The three "sisters" (in a reluctant coven) are quietly feared and respected by most of their homeland of Lancre, and they normally make a point to keep to themselves. But Duke-cum-King Felmet, who somewhat secretly assassinated his predecessor, is even worse than usual, and the conscience of the land itself urges their intervention. Fortunately, they had enabled the rightful infant heir to escape and, in the style of the Good Fairies from Sleeping Beauty, granted him blessings. Still, they can't expect everything to sort itself out from there....

Effectively leading the coven is "Granny" Esme Weatherwax, a grump who's good with "headology" and weirder -- well, wyrder -- magic but bad with words and other worldly things. Next is "Nanny" Gytha Ogg, who takes care of a tremendous family and, perhaps not coincidentally, owns the world's most oversexed cat. Thanks to her tipsy periods, I now know the source of the bawdy Hedgehog Song. (My copy needs a better editor: Twice it mixes up Nanny and Granny.) Finally, much younger Magrat ironically has the most traditional desires for the coven. In essence, she is to witchcraft what Carrot was to the Night Watch in Guards! Guards!. Only she gets a love interest, known primarily as the Fool, who had the misfortune of being schooled by people who deem comedy the most serious thing ever.

Tomjon has no idea he's the son of the late king. He's been adopted by a stage manager, and it just so happens that his blessings make him preternaturally adept at acting. Who knows how that might help outside of the theater? His most interesting comrade is Hwel, a misfit dwarf who gets far too many divine inspirations for scripts, many of which would be more at home in vaudeville movies than in a pseudo-medieval fantasy realm.

I actually feel a bit sorry for Felmet, who has no love for his kingdom and wouldn't have usurped it if not for his irredeemable wife's ambitions. (Why do they still call her the Duchess, anyway?) He seems happy only in the depths of insanity. His nagging guilt leads him to order a play that portrays him as a hero and late King Verence as a villain. You can guess whom he orders.

BTW, Verence persists as a ghost. Evidently, he wasn't a great guy in life, but I feel sorrier for him yet. He can barely do anything to make most people even suspect his presence, tho the witches see him just fine. As does Pratchett's signature Death, of course, who had to let him linger for bureaucratic reasons not explained in depth.

Speaking of explaining in depth, if you come across an unfamiliar word or reference, I advise you not to look it up. At best, it's an obscure archaism; much more likely, it's completely made up. This doesn't happen in other Pratchett books I've read, and it annoys me by slowing me down without benefit.

Don't get me wrong; WS is still a strong work overall. It's big on the irony, deconstruction, and gawkiness that made Pratchett a star. The trick is not to take it any more seriously than it takes itself. In that regard, I'm a tad out of practice.

Feeling up for another tome, I'm trying The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks. So far, it hasn't shown any fantasy premises, only fictitious geography.
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Stephen Gilberg

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