Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Book Review: Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett

Equal Rites is the third book in the Discworld universe. That being said, it little to do with the prior two books (The Color of Magic, The Light Fantastic) and can be read on its own. I've read very little into the Discworld, yet I'm thoroughly enjoying it. Some people claim that Terry Pratchett's early work isn't that good, which is incredible since the ones I've read (the first 3) are excellent! I can't wait to get on to his later stuff.

This book deals with all the craziness of the Discworld, again. The story revolves around a young girl who wants to go to the Unseen University, the venerable institution that teaches magic to young men in order for them to become wizards. It makes it sound like lots of deep, abstract thinking is required to succeed. But hey, if you have the talent: nothing is stopping you! But this is Discworld, where nonsense and crazy is the norm. So there's one extra rule: you have to be a man to be a wizard. Good thing such gender biases do not happen in the real world! Oh wait.....

Read on for my full review!

Overall Impression
I enjoyed this book. It was a very short, very quick read. The fact that it's not divided into chapters, along with the fast pace, makes it difficult to know when to put it down. The story follows two main characters (Eskarina and Granny) for the whole book and the author does a good job characterizing them. As with all Discworld novels, the tone is light and humorous making Equal Rites a very fun book to ready. My only complaint? It was too short!

The plot is fairly straightforward and simple. It's the sort of book that can be read very quickly. The basic premise is that a wizard passes on his staff to a newborn wizard, which happens to be the girl Eskarina. As she grows up, her magic starts to manifest and she comes under the tutelage of Granny Weatherwax. Granny is a witch, however, and realizes Esk needs training from wizards. Thus begins a journey through Discworld to reach Ankh-Morpork and it's fabled Unseen University. Throughout their journey Granny and Esk learn things about themselves and the world at large.

There's not a huge cast of characters to Pratchett's novels (at least thus far). This is a welcome change from more epic tales with dozens, if not hundreds, of important characters. Here we really focus on Eskarina Smith, the young girl who is born to be a (female) wizard. With her is Granny Weatherwax, witch of Bad Ass (a town; yes, that's the name). A few wizards do have prominent roles near the end, but nothing like Esk and Granny. It's cool that we see Esk grow, though she always seems more mature than her age. It could be a consequence of the magic, though. Esk is very innocent when it comes to other aspects.

I particularly found it humorous how Granny complained about her perfect teeth and lack of warts as that made her look less like a respectable old crone. It both describes the character while reinforcing the concepts behind 'headology' and witchcraft.

Setting / World Building
As all Discworld books, this one is set in Discworld. This is a magical place, a disk supported by four elephants riding a giant turtle. It's an incredible setting meant to both honor and ridicule fantasy in the best way possible. I love it. We also see hints at other possible discworlds. One that I remember is circled by a giant serpent eating it's tail. Sound familiar?

One aspect of witch 'magic' that is presented is that of 'headology'. It's a very clever word for things that happen all around us in the real world. Looks and appearances are everything these days. How many times have you bought something because it is a particular brand? How often have you disregarded someone because he or she doesn't look the part? It's all in your head, and that is headology. It's not magic, it's catering to the expectations of the people, it's applied psychology. A witch is a witch because she does witchcraft, but if she wears a witches hat and black outfit then she is clearly the better witch because everyone thinks so.

The book touches on gender equality in a clever fashion. It paints Discworld as ridiculous with its magic and space turtles, but then introduces this idea of a woman wanting to become a wizard. This is akin to having women be doctors, engineers, or astronomers. The book makes it sound like a ridiculous idea, but we know in reality that women have indeed been shunned from STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields for years. In my own field of astronomy, while women and men are roughly equal in the early stages, as you advance to later stages of the career (to the coveted permanent faculty or research positions), you see a steady decline in how women are represented. There are plenty of blogs out there that discuss these issues and I'll point you to Women in Astronomy if you want to learn more. So yes, Pratchett shines a light on this issue and makes you, the reader, side with the young girl and despise the stuck-up wizards with their antiquated ideas and 'lore'. It's a subtle reminder that it's our responsibility to make sure we are not like these wizards and are instead inclusive of all people regardless of gender (or race, color, interests, etc).

Final Thoughts
This was a great addition to my reading of Discworld novels. I bought the first 5 at a huge discount so I'll certainly be going through them, and likely expanding to the rest. This book is interesting in that while it deals with a simple story of a girl growing up (and magic and all that stuff), it has a second layer of meaning when you consider people preconceptions about their place in society (due to gender or other reasons). It's a book that is deeper than it lets on, though the humour is used extensively and well. While the plot was simple and short, I enjoyed the book and its characters and hope to see more of them in future Discworld novels.

1 comment:

  1. Hi
    I really liked your blog.

    I have only recently discovered these books as my husband recommended them and I am really enjoying them. Granny Weatherwax was my favourite character as she was so stuck in her ways it was funny but eventually I thought she was open to new ways when she was in the city.

    I have recently reviewed Equal Rites on my blog too if you would like to read it. My blog is anitasbookbag.co.uk