I’ve had such a dreadful reading week that I wasn’t even sure I’d get this book finished for my review today. I was reading right up to the last minute but I did it. And it was a suitable October read to boot. Okay, so it’s not scary but it’s got witches in it. I’ve read a few Terry Pratchett novels over the years but there are still loads that I’ve not got round to yet. My TBR is already longer than I can remember and there are so many Discworld novels out there. So, I’m slowly trying to make my way through them. Very slowly. I like Terry Pratchett but sometimes he does get a bit distracted in whimsy. It’s why I think Good Omens works so well. Neil Gaiman keeps him on track and Terry brings a lighter touch to Neil’s normal style. It really is the best of both of them. Not that either of them are bad writers but nobody is perfect.
Equal Rites, the third novel in the Discworld series, introduces us to Granny Weatherwax, a character who returns in several later novels. After a mix-up, she is left to deal with the fallout of a baby girl being given a dying wizard’s powers. The legend goes that the eighth son born on an eighth son is destined to be a wizard. Unfortunately for Drum Billet, the child he passes his staff onto is actually a girl. There has never been a female wizard before so nobody really knows what’s going to happen. Until her proficiency for magic starts to reveal itself. Granny decides it’s time to take the girl to the Unseen University, a wizarding school. But she knows that it’ll take a lot of convincing to get the girl enrolled. Turns out wizards have a very defiant idea of gender roles that they aren’t in any rush to change.
Reading this book now, when there are 41 published novels, is a bit tricky. You can tell that it’s an early novel. It doesn’t feel as tight or as funny. However, after the first two books in the series, we can celebrate the introduction of a strong narrative here. I’ve nothing against The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic but they were more about parody than storytelling. Equal Rites starts to move us towards the wider universe of these novels. I like the basic principle behind Equal Rites. The added layer of gender politics is great but, to be honest, it’s an idea that we’ve seen before. It’s not exactly breaking new ground in terms of equal rights and it isn’t going to have a massive impact on the conversation surrounding genders. The novel takes the theme and has some fun with it. However, it’s clear this was never a novel with sociological aims and there are no real surprises with how it turns out.
And how does it turn out? Not as well as I would have wanted. The novel spends an awful lot of time getting to where it needs to be. Pratchett delights in the minutiae of his world and we spend a lot of time describing people and places. A lot of time that could have been spent on the main plot of the novel. As a Tolkien fan, I love a good bit of lush description but not at the expense of the story. It feels like the final act of the novel just race away from us. The threat that Ersk finds herself up against comes from nowhere and is over almost as quickly as it arrived. It’s not that Equal Rites is a dreadful book but it just doesn’t feel like a fully-fledged novel. It’s as if Pratchett was distracted by other things and the plot just sort of had to happen.
Not that I’m complaining about the other stuff. As with the rest of his Discworld novels, there is a lot of fantastic world-building on show here. The new characters we meet and the new places we visit are all created with such care and originality. Pratchett knows how to expand a universe and work everything together. The introduction of Granny Weatherwax is superb and you can tell she’s on her way to becoming a great character. She is a force to reckoned with and has some great lines throughout the novel. However, despite all of this greatness, Equal Rites just can’t compare to most of the Discworld novels that I’ve read. He was still starting out and you miss the finesse. It’s a book that is worth reading but it won’t be one of your most loved.