I think we know that I madly love retellings of The Phantom of the Opera…and that Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series claims the “Funniest Book” spot on my End of the Year Rankings every year…so what could be more perfect than Maskerade, a Discworld retelling of Phantom?
I was inspired to pull this off my shelf recently after reading I Shall Wear Midnight, with its cameos from Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg. This is my…third? fourth? read of Maskerade, and it stays just as funny on repeated visits. Although my poor paperback now has a crack in the spine–which I kind of enjoy, because it’s cracked on my favorite page! I feel like that’s a cliche that rarely actually happens…
Anyway! Maskerade focuses on Granny and Nanny, who are coming to the unfortunate realization that you just can’t have a coven of only two witches, having recently lost Magrat as their third. The only eligible girl in Lancre is Agnes Nitt–but she recently departed for the bright lights (and strong smells) of the big city of Ankh-Morpork, determined to reinvent herself. Agnes wins a role at the Opera House due to her prodigious voice–but not a starring role, due to her prodigious size. She is befriended by the wonderfully, incredibly idiotic Christine, who can’t sing but looks good in an evening gown. When Christine’s mirror starts talking to her she insists on switching rooms with Agnes, and Agnes finds herself the recipient of music lessons from a mysterious man in a mask.
Meanwhile, the Opera’s new owner is very perturbed to find out that the entire Opera Company accepts the existence of a masked ghost who writes notes and gives directions and, in a recent development, kills people. Granny and Nanny, from the most altruistic motives possible of course, decide that something is a bit off in Agnes’ letters home, and they must depart for the big city to investigate.
And there is mayhem and Death and hilarity and Phantom references and mad little notes with five exclamation points and suspicious cookery and sometimes most of those things all on one page.
Night Watch may still be my favorite Discworld novel because it has more layers to enjoy, but for being purely hilariously funny, Maskerade takes the prize. And that is saying a LOT. Really, I don’t think there is any hyperbolic way I could call a book funnier than to say that I find it to be the funniest Discworld novel. Except maybe to say that sometimes I can go a month of good, entertaining reading and never literally laugh out loud, while with Maskerade it happens roughly every third page. Sometimes three times on one page.
I will say that this book probably improves if you’ve read other Discworld novels (especially the Witches books and the City Guard books) because I pick up more references and cameos now that I’ve read others–but I madly loved it when it was the only Discworld novel I had read. It might also be better if you know the Phantom story (at least passingly) and if you find Christine rather annoying (I’m not the only one, right?)
But that’s really just a way to say that an amazing book is even better if you have the right background.
It’s also better if you’re a Michael Crawford fan. You see, I picked up something on this most recent read that I hadn’t caught before, but it’s a little spoiler-ish (of something fairly obvious) so highlight the white text below to read… Since my last read, I watched some episodes of the British sitcom Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, about Frank Spencer who is gawky and ungainly, well-meaning and earnest, and wears a black beret. When I reread Maskerade, it occurred to me that Walter Plinge is, well, gawky and ungainly, well-meaning and earnest, and wears a black beret. Which is entertaining itself, but far MORE entertaining considering that when Walter Plinge dons a mask he turns into the Phantom, possessed of an amazing singing voice…and Frank Spencer–or rather, the actor who played him, Michael Crawford, went on to don a mask and originate the role of Webber’s Phantom, revealing a singing voice I’m sure no one dreamed Frank Spencer had! I also wonder now if this something American readers don’t catch, while British readers say, yes, of course…
This isn’t much of a coherent review, I’m afraid. But all I can really say is–it’s funny. It’s very, VERY funny. Read it.
Author’s Site: http://www.terrypratchettbooks.com/
Buy it here (oh go on, do it!): Maskerade