My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Third in the Discworld series, Equal Rites branches out from the wizards of the first two books to their natural counterpart: the witches. And, being Discworld, only men can be wizards, only women can be witches, hence the clever title when a girl aspires to be a wizard.
Pratchett’s style is clearly settling into his norm: the story feels less ‘jumpy’ than The Colour of Magic and even The Light Fantastic – it’s as if his confidence had grown. (Also, I remember reading somewhere that The Carpet People was the series he expected to write to the extent of Discworld, not Discworld itself – and if this is true, perhaps by Equal Rites he’d already realized that was not going to be the case.)
Granny Weatherwax’s character in this, her first of many appearances, is already nicely set. Here, her unfounded opinions –
For the first time in her life Granny wondered whether there might be something important in all these books people were setting such store by these days, although she was opposed to books on strict moral grounds, since she had heard that many of them were written by dead people and therefore it stood to reason reading them would be as bad as necromancy. Among the many things in the infinitely varied universe with which Granny did not hold was talking to dead people, who by all accounts had enough troubles of their own.
And here, after using her frightening mum-voice that has even a wizard’s staff cowering in fear, her ‘headology’ threats –
First it’ll be the spokeshave. And then the sandpaper, and the auger, and the whittling knife…and what’s left I’ll stake out in the woods for the fungus and the woodlice and the beetles. It could take years.
There is a distinct lack of footnotes in Equal Rites, and I wonder if Pratchett and his editor were having an argument about their pros and cons – in which case I’m glad the editor won out. This book is stronger for their lack (but see future reviews…).
Pratchett’s puns are continual (something I don’t think anyone can ever get away with again) such as the revelation that some really odd fossils are leftover from the time when the Creator hadn’t really decided what to make and was just
‘messing around with the Pleistocene’
– or when Granny moves in next to the well-guarded premises of a respectable dealer in stolen property because she’d heard
‘good fences make good neighbours’
His comparisons, coming out of someone else’s pen, might be offensive, but when Pratchett says it in the voice of his narrator the suspension of disbelief is so perfect we just laugh –
She hit one [of the Things from the Dungeon Dimension], which had a face like a small family of squid, and it deflated into a pile of twitching bones and bits of fur and odd ends of tentacle, very much like a Greek meal.
– or cringe –
The streets were filled with silt, which on the whole was an improvement – Ankh-Morpork’s impressive civic collection of dead dogs had been washed out to sea.
Sometimes, too, Sir Pratchett toys with us – we can read what he says at face value, but there’s often a deeper joke lurking within the depths, and I suspect that’s developing nicely even at this early stage – when Esk reaches one of the trees marked by an axe to assist lost villagers on snowy nights and it’s marked with ‘dot dot dot dash dot dash’ – it might be random, but it’s also Morse Code for ‘ok’ – and she suddenly ceased being ok at that very moment.
On the whole, although I still wouldn’t recommend a newcomer start here, the series is becoming stronger and stronger by the book, and even though I’ve already read them all, I find myself discovering new things and even wondering what happens next!
More than anything though, I find myself astounded that Pratchett keeps up this momentum, even improving, through dozens more books yet.