What I'm Reading: Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett

If you read people's comments about the Discworld series online, many of them say that the series doesn't really start to get good until Mort, the fourth entry. Having just finished reading Equal Rites a second time, I would disagree. This book, which introduces the Witches, feels a lot different than the two preceding books (The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic). And when I say that it feels different, what I mean is that it feels a lot more like a Discworld novel.

I remember the first time I read this book really well. It's the book that I brought with me and read on the plane en route to Montreal in July 2011. When I arrived, I endured the hottest heat wave of my life and I've never forgiven the city for it. We'll see if I ever return, and not just because long distance travel is in question in new ways now.

So, Equal Rites.

I find it really interesting that Pratchett introduced his ultimate group of Strong Female Characters via a device in which a young girl inherits a wizard's staff - and no woman has ever been a wizard before (it's against the lore). I also find it really interesting that in his parody of fantasy tropes, the trope of all male wizards and all female witches is this high up on Pratchett's list. The book isn't about gender so much as it's about women's rights (though the two are of course related). It's also interesting that he chose to break away from Rincewind at this point. The Light Fantastic is a very direct sequel to The Colour of Magic and although there's the connecting tissue of the wizards and Unseen University appearing in this novel, Rincewind doesn't show up at all. Of course I know he'll be back, but readers in 1987 didn't, and so I wonder how they felt about the abrupt shift.

Granny Weatherwax is in this book, but not her companion, Nanny Ogg. I missed the contrast between the two of them. The young girl is Eskarina Smith (or Esk), who is stuck with wizard magic in the body of a person who ordinarily would become a witch.

Now, as a Discworld fan, the Witches have always been my favourite, and this was really cemented by the Tiffany books, which are a long way away in my publication order (re)read. Though they're in their infancy here, with Granny not quite herself and no Nanny Ogg, any Witch book is a good book as far as I'm concerned. I love the way that Pratchett is already developing their role as practical women who do what needs to be done. "Headology" is already in this book as being the Witches' primary method of doing magic. I teared up a little while reading the wikipedia article (warning that there are some spoilers in it).

All that being said, Equal Rites is still a bit wobbly. The whole book builds to a confrontation between Esk, a young wizarding student named Simon, and some things in the Dungeon Dimensions. This climax and the reasoning behind it are a bit confusing, and undercut what's going on with Esk and her efforts to become a student at the University.

I can't be objective about the Witches, though.

Fun fact from this book: the Unseen University is much, much larger than Gormenghast.


My other Discworld reviews:

  1. The Colour of Magic
  2. The Light Fantastic

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