Equal Rites, by Terry Pratchett

Equal RitesI read my first Terry Pratchett novel almost a year ago after picking it up by chance in my favorite Cleveland used bookstore. So obviously, when I found myself in said bookstore again, and there were three used Pratchetts just sitting there waiting for me, I snapped them all up without reservation. And when I found myself on a plane in a middle seat with my intended next read up in the overhead bin but those three paperbacks sitting under the seat in front of me, I grabbed the one on top and settled in for a good read.

And it was! I was a little iffy at first on the premise, which is that there’s a baby girl accidentally given wizard powers by a dying wizard who meant to give them to a baby boy, because of course boys can be wizards and girls can be witches and neither the other way around. Yay.

It’s a premise that has been done before, but Pratchett does it in his own reasonably amusing style and so therefore it’s done better. The girl wizard, Esk, grows up not knowing about her wizardliness, and when her magic starts to show her witchy grandmother tries to teach her the witchly ways but soon realizes that just won’t be enough. So Esk and Granny Weatherwax set off on a journey to the wizard school, a journey that is of course full of adventure and danger and magic. Sold!

There is also, as you might expect, a bit of discussion about women’s rights and the nature of girls versus boys, but it’s surprisingly nuanced and intelligent for an ostensibly humorous book. That Pratchett is wily!

As before, what really makes the story is Pratchett’s way with words. From the first page: “This is also a story about sex, although probably not in the athletic, tumbling, count-the-legs-and-divide-by-two sense unless the characters get totally beyond the author’s control. They might.”

From a random page in the middle: “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.”

Like Guards, Guards!, this book is pretty simple plot-wise and character-wise, but writing-wise it is doubleplusgood and therefore the perfect plane or beach or lunchtime or anytime reading. I am very glad I have two more of Pratchett’s books on hand, and more glad that there are like eight million more to read after those!

Recommendation: To copy myself, for fans of British humor (i.e. Douglas Adams, Monty Python) and fantasy novels and satire and fun.

Rating: 7/10

Guards! Guards!, by Terry Pratchett

Guards! Guards!I’ve vaguely known about Terry Pratchett and Discworld for years, but was never really interested in reading any of it. Then my brother’s girlfriend started showing up to family events with her nose buried in a Pratchett book, a new one for every event, and since I generally trust her opinions I figured I’d give the guy a try. So when I found myself in one of my favorite Cleveland bookstores with some time to kill, I picked the one that sounded most interesting and it came home with me.

And apparently I was lucky in my book choice! According to the bro’s girlfriend you don’t have to read the series in publication order, but you should read the individual storylines in order, and this book is the first in the “City Watch” storyline. Good work, self! If you are of another mind about how to read Discworld (I hear there are many of these minds), well, oops?

So, anyway, back to this particular book… Guards! Guards! is a weird little story that is part miniature epic fantasy novel and part commentary on epic fantasy novels. It reminds me a bit of Redshirts, except without a weird and headache-causing twist in the middle. I’m not super well versed in classic fantasy, but I knew enough about swords and magic and DRAGONS to get me through this one!

‘Cause see, there’s a Brotherhood of… Something… whose leader decides it’s totes time for change in city leadership, so he summons up a dragon to come kill a few people here and there so that the leader can bring in a ringer to be the long-lost rightful heir to the throne of said city, Ankh-Morpork, and then have lots of power or whatever. As you do. But there is also a bumbling sort of police force called the City Watch who are usually just for show, but with the addition of an officer who has actually read the book of laws they end up investigating the whole “appearance of a heretofore imaginary dragon” thing. There’s also a whole bunch of other stuff that happens, including the theft of a book from a library which leads to some fantastic quotes about libraries and bookstores and magic and whatnot, so that’s awesome.

And really, I think those quotable lines, of which there are many, are what this book is about. The plot is pretty simple and straightforward, but it is not shy about dashing off on a tangent for the sake of a joke or even a pun. I approve, and I approve also of Pratchett’s ability to use fantasy clichés to alternately advance the story (e.g. this is how things work in fantasy novels, so therefore this thing works) and to completely derail it (e.g. this is how things work in fantasy novels, too bad this is actually real life!) — sometimes using the same cliché to both ends!

I found this book “reasonably amusing” (to quote myself) and a perfect sort of brain-candy read, and I will definitely pick up another Pratchett book in the future, if I can ever figure out which one should come next!

Recommendation: For fans of British humor (i.e. Douglas Adams, Monty Python) and fantasy novels and satire and fun.

Rating: 7/10
(RIP)