Men are Wizards and women are Witches, this was the common thought throughout the Discworld for generations. This is a story about Eskarina, the Discworld’s first female Wizard.
A dying Wizard, Mr. Drum Billet, has been seeking out his successor, using his staff for magical guidance he comes across a smithy who happens to be an eighth son… who happens to have seven sons and a wife that’s giving birth. It’s said that a Wizard is born when the eighth son has an eighth son and that Wizards pass on their magic at the time of death, with the baby wizard inheriting their staff. Everything goes according to plan, the Wizard says an incantation, hands over the staff, and everything is complete. The wizard dies. Then it’s revealed that the child is a girl and there’s a fair bit of tension in the air because obviously women can’t be Wizards.
Granny thinks that this whole thing is a giant mistake, men use obscure magic that uses lines, numbers, astronomy and “jommetry”, while women’s/witches magic comes from the ground, from nature and deals with herbs and animals. She’s completely set in her ways and believes that destroying the staff would be the best option, then pretend none of this happened.
It doesn’t work, burning the staff left no mark, trying to break the staff in half with an axe just resulted in an axe with no blade attached since it was flung across the room when it made contact with the staff. Granny and the smith resolve to just leave it alone and never mention the staff, just let it collect dust in a forgotten portion of the house.
Eskarina grows up and she’s pretty typical for her first seven years, she shows no sign of magical ability and a fondness for climbing trees. But, when Esk is confronted with a dangerous situation involving wolves, her magic comes through and it’s powerful. Granny tries to teach her the ways of being a witch, starting with herbs and going into Headology (psychology essentially) and Borrowing. Esk shows an incredible talent for Borrowing (which allows a witch to ride in the mind of an animal and see what they see) but she takes it too far. She almost gets stuck as an eagle forever because she went too deep and tried to take over the body of the eagle as well as the mind. Esk manages to come back to her body, but she’s shaken by the experience. Granny doesn’t know what to do because her magic is ‘all wrong’ for witchcraft. After much agonizing debate with herself she decides to take Esk to the Unseen University to train as a wizard.
Granny is in her earliest development here, and she’s a far way off from the character I grew to love so much. She’s much less palatable in this book than she is in later books, at least in my opinion, and this is mostly because there’s an imbalance between curmudgeon and wise woman who’s extremely quotable. She’s on her way there in this book, with phrases like:
“They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but it is not one half so bad as a lot of ignorance”.
However, I wouldn’t blame people for not connecting with Granny in this first book, I see glimpses of what she’s going to be later on, but it’s not quite there yet. Granny has a disdain for books and traditional forms of education, when she writes a letter to Unseen University she signs her name “Esmerelder Weatherwaxe, Wytch”. She finds it unnatural that Esk wants to be a wizard and believes in a strict divide between the two forms of magic. Her wisdom comes from a long line of life experiences serving the people of BadAss, and when it starts to shine that’s when Esme is at her best.
Eskarina is determined to prove everyone wrong, and that women can be Wizards and that she can also be a witch on top of it. She wants to master all of the magics, the Natural as well as the High magics. In some ways she sort of reminds me of a prototype for Tiffany Aching (who is a lovely character with her own series) since she has a very self-reliant and problem-solving personality that’s mature for her age.
I felt like this was more tightly written than the first two books, there were fewer rambling paragraphs about the backstory of a random object. Terry has a habit to go in great depth and giving backstories and sub-plots to mundane things, like a rock or a tree. Although it can be highly entertaining at times, it can go overboard and get distracting and confusing as well. I feel like when he tones it down and has small asides about things it reads better than page-long diversions.
“She was already learning that if you ignore the rules people will, half the time, quietly rewrite them so that they don’t apply to you.”
“The entire universe has been neatly divided into things to (a) mate with, (b) eat, (c) run away from, and (d) rocks.”
- Plot: 11/15
- Character: 10.25/15
- World Building: 11.5/15
- Writing: 12.5/15
- Pacing: 12/15
- Originality: 13.5/15
- Personal Enjoyment: 7.25/10
Final Score: 78/100 or 3.9/5