Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett

Ah, Discworld. It feels good to be back again. I've missed you! Getting my hands on Equal Rites has been a bit of a challenge, although that's partially because I'm really trying not to buy as many books. I will admit: was at the bookstore last week and did pick up Mort for myself, which is one of two Discworld novels I'd read before The Wee Free Men. This way I have my next book queued up in the TBR pile, rather than waiting several months to get to it. (BTW, this is the cover of the edition I read... not the one I like. These new black covers are... trying to make the Discworld novels into something they're not, I think. Although I guess they may appeal to a different audience from those who have previously read Pratchett's work, and that's a good thing.)

Equal Rites is the story of Eskarina Smith, Discworld's first female wizard. She's the first one because the wizard Drum Billet, on the eve of his death, hands over his staff to the eighth son of an eighth son -- except that Esk turns out to be a daughter, not a son. The staff's sure it hasn't made a mistake, but everyone else is sure it has. Esk's lucky, because the midwife who delivered her happens to be the redoubtable witch Granny Weatherwax -- and Granny's not about to let some wizard magic (suitable only for men, she believes, and lesser for that) mess the poor girl up. But even Granny's best laid plans can't keep the wizard magic away from Esk, and something's going to have to be done, and there's certain to be adventure on the way.

Compared to The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, Equal Rites is a little more refined, a little less madcap (it can't help it -- there's no Rincewind), and more subtle in some ways. It's a quieter story and it's also a book about Issues, in a very unsubtle way. It never pretends to be about anything else, and the story is such a good one that I can forgive it being about Issues when I'm often turned off by that. Pratchett handles the subject of women's rights deftly. Part of what I like so much about this story is that he's very sympathetic to his characters, but only when they're not being stupid or hypocritical; hypocrisy is laid bare for everyone to see, and it's mocked mercilessly, as it should be. I guess the big difference between this book and other books about Issues is that the way women's rights are dealt with grows out of the story organically. There's nothing forced about it.

As I'm growing to expect, the characters are vividly painted, and not necessarily two-dimensional (although some of them are -- this is forgiven because the main characters eclipse the minor characters). Granny Weatherwax, especially, is remarkable and I love her. She's such a legend to me, having met her in the smattering of other Discworld books I've read -- it was fun to read her "beginnings" (when she's already comparatively elderly -- I love that she's treated so well). She's the sort of character I love to read, but would probably be scared to death of if I actually met her. Especially if she wasn't on my side. I don't imagine her to be a comfortable person to talk to. But to read about her talking to others is a joy.

The storyline itself is a good adventure, a somewhat traditional coming-of-age. There were a few episodes that seemed a little... thrown in for the heck of it, maybe? It's not as tightly crafted as it could have been, but I think I'm spoiled by other Pratchett I've read. And I didn't think some of the description was as rich as I'd expected, although still miles ahead of many other writers.

What I do love is that I'm starting to get a feel for the shape of the Discworld novels, which was my whole intention with reading these books in order of publication. In some ways, Pratchett is still clearly feeling his way through things, still growing the world. I would rather, in my case of reading the books for the first time, have the shape of the world grow in the right order for me. I don't know if that makes any sense at all to anyone but me.

And because Pratchett's quotability factor remains high in this novel, here's one of several I really liked:

The barges stopped at some of the towns. By tradition only the men went ashore, and only Amschat, wearing his ceremonial Lying hat, spoke to non-Zoons. Esk usually went with him. He tried hinting that she should obey the unwritten rules of Zoon life and stay afloat, but a hint was to Esk what a mosquito bite was to the average rhino because she was already learning that if you ignore the rules people will, half the time, quietly rewrite them so that they don't apply to you.

And once I've worked my way through some of the coming-due library books on the TBR pile, to Mort, where we get to hang out with another of my favourite Discworld characters: DEATH.

P.S. Today is Canada Day! Happy Canada Day, everyone, especially my fellow Canadian readers. A classic treat from the National Film Board for you, that has nothing to do with books in general or Terry Pratchett in particular: The Log Driver's Waltz.


Ana S. said...

"Part of what I like so much about this story is that he's very sympathetic to his characters, but only when they're not being stupid or hypocritical; hypocrisy is laid bare for everyone to see, and it's mocked mercilessly, as it should be."

Yes! So true.

He's said he's working on a fourth Tiffany Aching novel, I Shall Wear Midnight, in which she will meet Esk. How absolutely awesome is that?

I also, I kind of hate those Discworld covers with a passion. I think they reinforce stereotypes: Serious, Respectable Books Do Not Have Colourful Fantasy Covers. Meh :P

Unknown said...

Man, I hope Esk and Tiffany get along. Because seriously, how apocalyptic would it be if they didn't?! The two of them being as headstrong as they are, there are some delicious possibilities for conflict, or for the two of them to take over the world together. Perhaps both.

Those black covers are just so incongruous. I had the choice to buy Mort with the black cover, and with the regular old colourful cover -- and I chose the old cover, because it's so much more true to the book.

Phyl said...

I much prefer the colourful covers. The black covers do make the whole set look really...elegant. But Discworld? Elegant??

I have to confess that I didn't really like Wee Free Men at all, and wasn't too impressed with the first 3 or 4 Discworld books. (And my friends kept buying them for me as presents!)

Then I hit "Small Gods," and boom. That was it. And my very very favourite character is DEATH. Bar none.

Anyway, fun review! Thanks. I still have many volumes to go.

By the way, thanks for the Log Driver's Waltz, and Happy Canada Day!

Unknown said...

Happy Canada Day to you, too!

Just out of curiosity, what was it that put you off The Wee Free Men? I adored it, so I'm curious to hear another opinion.

Phyl said...

I don't know, it just seemed so...silly to me. I may feel different about it now, if I reread it now that I like Pratchett. But it was my introduction, and I felt like the wee men were really overdone. It's been long enough that I don't remember too many details, so I suppose I really should reread to see what I think now.

Unknown said...

I can certainly see that grating on people. I did find it silly, but I enjoyed the silliness; it was suddenly my kind of thing. I say suddenly because wasn't a Pratchett fan at first either, had gone for years wondering what the fuss was about, and The Wee Free Men was my turning point where I just got it. Part of what I love about reading, though, is that two people (or ten, or ten million) can have such different, individual reactions to the same book.