Surprise: instead of the review for Pilgrim’s Progress or Diné Bahane’ that you might have been expecting, I took a break to read and review another Pratchett novel. I was looking for something a little on the lighter side to read, this book was discounted in the Kindle store, and Pratchett is one of my go-to authors when I’m in need of a respite from denser works of both fiction and nonfiction. Which is not to say that Pratchett’s novels are insubstantial; just that they are easier and faster to read than heavy handed allegory (I’m looking at you, John Bunyan).
If you haven’t read Pratchett before, then instead of trying to describe the masterful blend of whimsy, humor, character, plot, and commentary to you, I suggest that you go find a Pratchett novel and read it for yourself. I don’t remember what the first Pratchett novel that I read was, but it doesn’t matter; I’ve yet to encounter one that I did not enjoy. They are what I will call satirical fantasy, but they do not beat you over the head with commentary, and there is a down-to-earth (down-to-Disc?) quality to them that makes them ideal comfort-reading.
This particular story focuses on…stories. At least, that is the apparent them that runs through the book, but the parallel theme running just beneath it is one of free will and self-determination. These might seem like heavy topics for what I’ve described as a light novel, but light is not the same thing as insubstantial, and Pratchett’s signature is to blend meaningful issues and concepts with humor and a style of storytelling that takes itself far from seriously.
If you start to think about some of the things we talk a lot about on this site too hard in the context of Discworld, you won’t enjoy the books as much. Things like rigorously defined and limited magic systems, anachronisms, plausible impossibility: they need not apply to a Pratchett novel, and that’s kind of the point. In fact, as Granny Weatherwax makes clear throughout the book, it doesn’t matter how overpowered the magic is, because it’s better not to use magic at all.
Like the best comfort foods, Pratchett novels are there for you when you need to escape, when you need to laugh but feel like there’s nothing to laugh at. Witches Abroad is not the sort of book that I’m going to tell you to rush out and read right away; rather, it’s the sort of book that I want you to file at the bottom of your reading list and pull out the next time you’re in one of those moods. Because all kinds of strange and magical things can happen in a place like Discworld.