Gender Equality in Discworld

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:

Other reviews:
Confessions of an English Literature Eater
Cubilone’s Dimension

About cherylmahoney

I'm a book review blogger and Fantasy writer. I have published three novels, The Wanderers; The Storyteller and Her Sisters; and The People the Fairies Forget. All can be found on Amazon as an ebook and paperback. In my day job, I'm the Marketing Specialist for Yolo Hospice. Find me on Twitter (@MarvelousTales) and GoodReads (MarvelousTales).
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14 Responses to Gender Equality in Discworld

  1. I thought this one was good, although I know the others are supposed to be even better by, it seems, everybody! Still, I’ve gathered the first and second as well, and I’ll go back to read those too, knowing that they’re supposedly even less funny, or less brilliant, or less-Discworld-y, but I’ll just squint and read quickly and wait for the really good stuff!

    • You really, really don’t have to read the first two first, unless you have a personal conviction about reading series in order…but it’s not necessary for Discworld. Most of the later books aren’t even about the same characters. On the other hand, I did like the first two books, so it’s not as if they’re a chore to read…it’s just that there are better ones!

  2. Leslie says:

    Well, this may explain why I haven’t been able to see what is so great about Discworld. So many people love these books I thought I would give them a try. And Equal Rites is the first one I picked up! I just couldn’t get interested in it. So I tried another early one. Nope. I don’t like to give up that easily so I’ll try and find a copy of Going Postal and see if that’s to my liking.

  3. dianem57 says:

    A retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Terry Pratchett certainly sounds like it could be a fun read, whatever the merits of the rest of the Discworld series.

  4. I haven’t read this one but I do believe my father has a copy of it, would really eventually like to read it as the witches are possibly my favourite discworld characters. I have read Wyrd Sisters which I loved and that was a sort of retelling of Macbeth if I remember rightly.

  5. Swamp Adder says:

    I was turned off the Discworld books when I read a couple of the early ones (including this) and didn’t find them as hilarious as expected. But since then I’ve heard many times that the later books are much better; so I plan to take another crack at the series eventually.

    • Oh, I can see how the first few books wouldn’t live up to expectations! Read something else–maybe Maskerade or Going Postal. They get SO much better than The Colour of Magic!

  6. Tanya M says:

    I haven’t read any Pratchett, unless you count Good Omens, and I’ve been dying to get my hands on something he wrote. I keep hearing how wonderful and stomach-clutchingly funny he is. Are the later few Discworld books really that good?

    • Yes–they really, really are. At least, for me–everyone has a different sense of humor, but I know a lot of people (including me!) who just love Pratchett. And it’s not only a later few…the first few are okay, but he probably has twenty or thirty great ones!

      • Tanya M says:

        Twenty or thirty?! Wow. That’s a lot. I’m definitely going to have to pick them up. Thirty?! Are these supposed to be read in order? Because I’d hate it if I gave up on him if I didn’t like the first few. Especially if he’s the reason I laughed until I cried while reading Good Omens.

        • I think the series has upwards of forty books, but don’t worry, you definitely don’t have to read them in order! I recommend starting at Going Postal since it’s stand-alone, but you could pick up almost anything. I don’t know exactly when they started getting really good, I haven’t read all the early ones. Just pick anything farther along that looks interesting!

          I haven’t read Good Omens yet, but for what it’s worth, I’ve always found Pratchett much funnier than Gaiman. Gaiman’s awesome too, but Pratchett is hilarious.

          • Tanya M says:

            I’ll do that, thanks so much for the recommendation!

            And I think I can tell. After Good Omens, I’ve read a whole bunch of Gaimans and I can sort of attribute some things in the book that are obviously not what he usually does. Simply because it’s so damn funny. Gaiman’s got a sense of humour too, his just isn’t the kind that makes you fall off a chair. Now that I know beyond a doubt that Pratchett was responsible for that, I’m definitely going to read his other stuff!

  7. Lark says:

    Thank you for this review. I’ve started two different Discworld novels and been unable to finish them — not because they weren’t funny and intriguing, but because I picked them up in someone else’s house and had to leave them behind when I left. I think it’s time to track a few down and read them all the way through!
    For great gender equality books, I’d recommend Pierce’s “Protector of the Small” quartet, about Kel, a girl training for her knighthood, even over the Alanna books (“Song of the Lioness” quartet.) For one thing, Pierce had become a more accomplished writer by the time she wrote the Protector of the Small series. For another, Kel doesn’t have Alanna’s magical and goddess-blessed advantages; she’s just an ordinary girl with extraordinary determination and grit, which makes her in some ways easier to relate to.

    • How frustrating would that be with the Discworld books! I hope you get a hold of one you can keep soon.

      Protector of the Small is good too; if you haven’t found it already, you can read my review here. I accept everything you say about the two series, but…I still just love Song of the Lioness better!

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