Folks, we need to talk about how I think I’m falling in love with Discworld. Equal Rites is only my second book in the series, but it made my heart happy while I was reading it, and considering I read it while preparing to go back to work after a two week vacation, that was a tall order.
In my review of Wyrd Sisters I mentioned that I wasn’t sure whether not picking this, the starter book for the Witches books, was going to be a problem. Having read it now, I think I was better off having read Wyrd Sisters first, since it gave me a bit of who Granny Weatherwax is, and this story gave me a more in depth experience with her, and her student Esk.
So what ‘s the story? It’s about a wizard on the brink of death who comes to the small town of Bad Ass to pass along his staff and power to the eighth son of an eighth son. The problem is, the son is a daughter, and no one has any idea what to make of that. Eskarina, possessed of significant innate magical power and the old wizard’s staff, ends up in the care of our lovely Granny Weatherwax, the witch of these environs. Granny, being Granny, distrusts wizard magic and decides to try to raise Esk as a witch. In Granny’s book, that means learning things, not just having magic, so Esk gets a thorough introduction to herbs and headology before she gets any training in magic. But Esk’s innate magic isn’t going to settle for that, and neither is her staff, so finally they set out for Ankh-Morpork and the Unseen University to try to enroll the first female wizard.
But that isn’t really what the story is about. Because this is Pratchett what we really have is spot-on satire of gender roles and institutionalized idiocy, all set in a venue we’re familiar with – school. His satire works because he has love, and not scorn, for his subject — to wit, human nature and all its foolishness and foibles. In Equal Rites no one can imagine a female wizard, or a male witch for that matter, because everyone’s ways of doing things are so different. Some of my favorite scenes are when view of the world collides with the ways of the Unseen University, culminating in a great twist on the magical battle from The Sword in the Stone.
While this is in many ways a stock fantasy (or any genre, really) coming of age story, it also has the Pratchett deliciousness of word play and humor. Pratchett has a talent for playing with the English language in subtle little ways so that the simplest sentence (“The conversation wandered away like a couple of puppies.”) had me giggling along as I read.
The only detractions I can really make are that occasionally the story races along and threatens to run away from you (seriously, how much time elapses in Ankh-Morpork, Pratchett?). I also thought the ending was a touch weak and just sort of plopped down there on the page. I literally turned the page expecting more, and alas there was none. I’m sure I’ll be finding my way to Witches Abroad before too long.