This is the first book in the “Witches” sub-series of Pratchett’s Discworld grand opus, and the third Discworld book published. In Discworld, magic falls into two separate camps divided along gender lines…at least until the events of this book. Wizards are all male, and deal with various kinds of transformative spells and grand magic. Witches, all female, deal with smaller but possibly more important knowledge and magic relating to birth, death, family life and healing. They are the mid-wives, the country doctors, the holders of knowledge about things that the common people need help with.
As the story opens, a dying elderly wizard has made his way to a rural area in the mountains where he hopes to grant his power and magic staff to a child with promising indications. The power is passed, but the fact that the child is female is something he overlooks. The local witch, Granny Weatherwax, tries to help the family of Eskarina, the chosen child, who want nothing to do with the magic staff left in their home, or the power granted, but as the child grows, her magic begins to surface, build, and accumulate, spilling out into the world in dangerous and unexpected ways. As Eskarina reaches her teens, Granny Weatherwax realizes she is out of her depth, and she and Eskarina embark on a long journey to the Unseen University, training establishment of the Wizards, to see if they can and will help. Along the way, Eskarina and Granny meet with large amounts of disbelief and criticism for even supposing a woman could ever be a wizard. The very fabric of magic in Discworld is about to be changed by Eskarina, and who ever wants change?
It was interesting reading this early Pratchett book not long after his last published one, “The Shepherd’s Crown.” This early writing is quite entertaining, with lots of humor crammed in wherever it can be in the narration, almost as if Pratchett was afraid of any dull or solemn moment creeping in, and at times a bit too frantic to please. The later books of his I’ve read are more balanced between humor and seriousness, less frantic, and more confident. The light-hearted writing is fine, though, and I found it captivating and entertaining. The inventiveness of the author is impressive, as is his knowledge of human nature, the characters are appealing (even when sometimes appalling), and the story satisfying. I look forward to more, and am happy to know there are lots more to read.