So far, I’ve seen Terry Pratchett be hysterically funny while tackling subjects like racial tension, politically-motivated war, business competition, and murder investigations. In my most recent Discworld read, Equal Rites, he took on gender equality–and if not hysterically funny, he was at the least quite amusing.
This is a new one for me but not for him, as it’s actually the third book in the Discworld series. Unfortunately, it shows. It took a few books for Pratchett to quite work out Discworld, and there seems to be universal agreement that the first couple are simply not as funny. It’s true for the third one too–it’s funny, but something’s off. Timing, style, character…I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s just not AS funny. Don’t get me wrong here–that still makes it one of the funniest books I’ve read this year. It pales only in comparison to the rest of the series.
I read this one because it’s the first book focusing on the Witches, one of the groups of major recurring characters within Discworld (along with the Wizards, the City Guard, and Death). I read Maskerade, another Witches book, long before I read any other Discworld (it’s that Phantom connection), and I hadn’t read any Witches books since, so I couldn’t quite put Maskerade in context. This helped a bit, though there’s much more to read.
As to the actual plot…a dying wizard passes his power on to what he thinks is a newborn boy–but turns out to be a girl. This is a problem because girls never become wizards. When Esk gets older, strange occurrences start happening around her–as when she turns her brother into a frog. Her family sends her to the local witch, Granny Weatherwax, who starts teaching her witchcraft. But Esk still has all this wizard power hovering around her, and eventually they set off for Unseen University, where all the wizards are trained, to see what can be done about a girl wizard.
There are certainly funny moments. Granny is an excellent character, although she’s not quite there yet. She’s a major character in Maskerade too, and she’s funnier then–but she’s funny here. There’s chaos and there’s mayhem and there’s at least a bit of commentary on gender rights.
It’s a good book–but I only recommend it if you’re really interested in reading as much Discworld as possible. If you want a fantasy novel about gender equality, read Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness quartet. If you want to read one book in Discworld, read Going Postal (and if you want to read a few more, check out my post here). As for me, I’ve got my eye on another Witches novel, Lords and Ladies, which I’ve been told is a retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream…
Author’s Site: http://www.terrypratchett.co.uk/