Witches and Phantoms and Opera, Oh My!

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/

Other reviews:
Fantasy Review Barn
Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Reviews
Confessions of an English Literature Eater
Anyone else?

Buy it here (oh go on, do it!): Maskerade

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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17 Responses to Witches and Phantoms and Opera, Oh My!

  1. Nathan says:

    I am from the US and know nothing about your spoiler!

    Agree about how funny this book is. The scene with Nanny giving everyone her special desert was side splitting.

  2. Sounds hilarious. I haven’t read this one but out of those I’ve read Wyrd Sisters is possibly my favourite so sounds like I’d love this one. You’ve reminded me its been ages since I read something from Discworld.

  3. This is plenty coherent! I’m glad to hear you still love this as much as you did the first time. ^_^ I really enjoyed it when I read it, though I still have to read the original (in translation). Yay for awesome books! I should reread it at some point just so I can catch more of the references. I’m pretty sure there were a lot I missed.

    • I’m actually not sure reading Leroux’s Phantom would let you get more out of Maskerade–I think it reflects the Chaney version and the Webber musical more!

      • I’ve only seen the film adaptation of the Webber musical. I suppose that about covers it then? (Also, why are you discouraging me from reading it? ;p)

        • Hehe, not a discouragement, just a warning that I don’t think it was Pratchett’s primary inspiration! I do think it’s interesting to read the original to see how all the various later versions were inspired or diverged from the starting point.

          • ❤ If I thought you were genuinely discouraging me from reading it, I'd probably have to ask if you were feeling all right. It is interesting to do that. It was a lot of fun with Frankenstein anyway, though that’s probably a very skewed example.

  4. writersideup says:

    Cheryl, I’ve had an inkling to dabble into books by Terry Pratchett, but haven’t yet. I just so happen to be a BIG “Phantom” fan—of the musical. My whole immediate family is, too. It’s like a “family classic” around here. That and “Midnight Run” lol Seriously, we’ve all (well, except for me) have seen it on Broadway multiple times. Amazing! I can tell you, you’ve made me very curious about the spoiler and I’m wondering if I should look lol Especially since I’m not sure I’ll get to read the book!

    • You could probably look…it’s not a major spoiler! And the book’s much more about the humor than the plot anyway. If you’re a Phantom fan, I’d *highly* recommend it!

      • writersideup says:

        OK, Cheryl, I read it and if I ever read the book, I’m SURE I won’t remember what you said! lol (Terrible recall here!) And I love that you put it in white font to disappear. I wonder if that would work on any blog that if someone highlights the text, it will show. LOVE that!…

        …and this…

        https :// www .youtube. com/watch?v=SEi93kVXVD0

        • writersideup says:

          I just watched it again. I actually get choked up on that last note…

        • I wonder if that would work on any blog that if someone highlights the text, it will show

          In general, yes, it will work on any blog. All Cheryl’s done is change the text colour to match the background colour. That’s a simple bit of HTML coding.

          However, it won’t work for every visitor. Some people override a website’s default colour settings. There are a few reasons for this, but accessibility is quite possibly the top one. I overwrite the colours on a few sites because not doing so renders them almost unuseable. Highlighting to hide spoilers like Cheryl did here might not work for me when done on those sites since the colour of the spoiler-text will no longer match that of the background.

          *ruffles hair* Does that help clarify the wondering or did I just accidentally make it worse? I hope I didn’t make it worse! The spoiler highlighting works great for most people, but it can backfire for anyone who has to deal with internet accessibility needs because it’s solely and purely a visual aid. Most ways of hiding spoilers that I’ve seen are like that.

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