We’ve found the first Discworld novel that I haven’t loved. I’m a bit perplexed, really. I know that I have a deep and abiding distaste for The Phantom of the Opera but generally I find riffs on it to be pleasing enough. But… there just wasn’t enough of the story outside of the Phantom satire. I wanted more Witches, is what I think it boils down to.
I made myself a goal of reading one Discworld/Terry Pratchett book each month this year. In my efforts towards that goal I’ve been working my way through the Witches books. The witches’ books have delighted me thus far – they are wry and about women’s power and agency, while being just the littlest bit dark around the edges. Perfect for me. But this one didn’t have enough of the things I loved about the witches themselves to keep me interested. It was too much about the Opera and all the goings-on therein.
The seemingly intentional misspelling of masquerade in the title uses Mask to point us in the direction of Pratchett’s larger meaning. We are all hiding behind something (Nanny using a pseudonym for her cookbook, Greebo as a person, Agnes going by Perdita, the literal mask on the ghost(s)). Pratchett also uses various forms and functions of his writing technique to point to ideas he’s playing with – there are the ubiquitous footnotes, but also a rather sublime fixation on exclamation points and just how much enthusiasm it takes to turn the corner to madness. All of these things should have pleased me, as they have in other books. This is Pratchett being Pratchett, as far as I’ve understood his writing in thus far (admittedly I’m only five books in, but five books for most authors is a definitive sample).
Mostly, I missed Granny Weatherwax. As I started reading the novel I thought that the quandary over choosing what is Right versus what is Wrong, and how Granny’s character was setting off on a path of being like Black Aliss with all the power she’s accumulated and the experiences she has had. Sure, by the time we get to how Granny chooses to deal with Salzella Pratchett is dealing with that question again, but for large portions of the text it’s being ignored. Granny, and by extension the rest of us, learn there would have been easier, less painful ways to defeat him (the Black Aliss ways) but Granny recognized that overcoming evil without becoming evil must often come at a personal cost. But it didn’t feel earned.
The other problem was that for the first time in my Discworld experience I was meeting characters who are recurring characters in the Discworld whom I’m running into for the first time, but have been introduced elsewhere, and I felt the lacking. I knew there were jokes and innuendo that I wasn’t catching because I hadn’t read any of the Watch books, or the Death books yet. So I think instead of wrapping up the Witches run with Carpe Jugulum next, I’m going to go back and read Mort.