Terry Pratchett – Maskerade

Discworld has taken a hold of me. It is a flat world balanced on the backs of four elephants who, in turn, are standing on the back of a giant turtle going through space. It may have taken me a few years to fully understand Sir Terry’s brilliance, but now that I have discovered it, I find it hard to read anything else…

maskerade1MASKERADE
by Terry Pratchett

Published by: Corgi (1995)
ISBN: 0552167567
Paperback: 381 pages
Series: Discworld #18
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: The wind howled.

‘I thought: opera, how hard can it be? Songs. Pretty girls dancing. Nice scenery. Lots of people handing over cash. Got to be better than the cut-throat world of yoghurt, I thought. Now everwhere I go there’s…’
Death, to be precise. And plenty of it. In unpleasant variations. This isn’t real life – it’s worse. This is the Opera House, Ankh-Morpork…a huge, rambling building, where innocent young sopranos are lured to their destiny by a strangely-familiar evil mastermind in a mask and evening dress, with a penchant for lurking in shadows, occasional murder, and sending little notes full of maniacal laughter and exclamation marks. Opera can do that to a man.
But Granny Weatherwax, Discworld’s most famous witch, is in the audience. And she doesn’t hold with that sort of thing. So there’s going to be trouble (but nevertheless a good evenin’s entertainment with murders you can really hum…). And the show MUST go on.

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Terry Pratchett takes on many things in his ongoing Discworld series. The Ankh-Morpork opera is not all that different from opera in our world as anybody who has ever been to the theater will see. But this isn’t just a book that makes fun of opera and the mentality of The show must go on! This is what would happen if The Phantom of the Opera were set in Discworld… with Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg right in the middle of it. Needless to say, hilarity ensues.

I have read Gaston Leroux’s novel, I know the musical songs, and I have seen the movie (with Gerard Butler as the phantom) and while you don’t need any knowledge of the original story to enjoy Terry Pratchett’s version, a handful of jokes and remarks made me giggle in particular because I remembered the original phantom. But let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

maskerade cover

Nanny and Granny are in need of a third witch to complete their coven. They feel that something is missing with just the two of them sitting on top of each other. Agnes Nitt seems a promising young girl, if not very gifted in the looks department, and she would make a first class witch. But Agnes has other plans. Calling herself Perdita X. Nitt – the X is for mystery –  she plans to make a name for herself at the opera. However, people there all agree that she has “great personality” and “good hair” but can’t really be put on stage where people can see her. Christine, the young, blonde, and thin girl, on the other hand, may be an awful singer but has exactly the kind of “stage presence” the directors are looking for.  Terry Pratchett has a talent for dealing with issues without overwhelming his readers or lecturing them. Agnes is fat. And – judging by the reactions she gets from other characters – quite ugly. But she has the voice of an angel and the heart of a witch, and so I found myself caring about her from the first moment onward. It can’t be argued that she suffers because of her looks and that some doors will always remain firmly closed to her.

nanny ogg stampWhen the resident opera ghost starts killing people, Agnes spends more time trying to figure out who the ghost is than worrying about her own career. As do Granny Weatherwax and the inimitable Nanny Ogg. I haven’t seen much of Nanny, as she only appears in the last Tiffany Aching book as a side character, but oh gods do I love her. Who wouldn’t love an old, round lady who keeps her money up her knickers and lives with a cat like Greebo? The banter the old witches have going on was especially fun to read. With those two, I don’t even need a plot.

But Pratchett wouldn’t be Pratchett if he let us down. There is a story here and it is not only a whodunit. Figuring out who exactly the ghost is wasn’t all that difficult but there are other questions that need answering, and I personally needed Granny’s help with that. I was also delighted with the cameos by the City Watch and the Librarian from the Unseen University. Discworld feels like such a rich and vibrant place that becomes real in your head and when these guys show up unexpectedly, it’s like old friends come visit you by surprise. I haven’t even read half the Discworld novels and already I couldn’t tell you anymore who my favorite character is.

EDIT: I completely forgot to mention the best poker game I’ve ever read about. Granny Weatherwax plays poker against Death for the soul of a sick child. I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time and it was one of those scenes that was incredibly touching at the same time. Ah, Death… you make everything seem kind of okay.

Whether I’ll turn out to like the witches more, or Death, or the City Watch, there is one thing I now know for sure. Discoworld is a feel-good place, even though bad things happen there as much as anywhere (if not more). Make a note for reading slumps or bad times or terrible weather. Because I know where I’ll be when either of these happen…

RATING: 8/10  –  Excellent!

Something I’ve been thinking about lately: The reason I picked this (quite random) Discworld novel was actually a bit of an experiment. When I read the first Death novel (Mort), then the first witches novel (Equal Rites) and then the first guards novel (Guards! Guards!), I was entertained but never really hooked enough to call myself a Pratchett or Discworld fan. Then – as my careful readers will remember – Tiffany Aching happened and I was all afire. Now I saw two possible reasons for my change of heart. Either, when I first picked up the books mentioned above, I was too young to fully grasp how brilliantly Terry Pratchett writes satirical, hilarious, yet deep novels. Or the reason is that the older Discworld novels simply weren’t that good. I went for the witches because duh, and I went for the 18th Discworld book because it is slightly older but not one of the very first ones, to see how my theory would hold up.

I now blame myself completely and intend to re-read all the Discworld books I read when I was younger. Terry Pratchett is a genius and a master storyteller and I am quite glad that I still have a ton of his books to read. The upcoming one – Raising Steam – sounds like a blast.

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The Discworld Series:

  1. The Colour of Magic
  2. The Light Fantastic
  3. Equal Rites
  4. Mort
  5. Sourcery
  6. Wyrd Sisters
  7. Pyramids
  8. Guards! Guards!
  9. Eric
  10. Moving Pictures
  11. Reaper Man
  12. Witches Abroad
  13. Small Gods
  14. Lords and Ladies
  15. Men at Arms
  16. Soul Music
  17. Interesting Times
  18. Maskerade
  19. Feet of Clay
  20. Hogfather
  21. Jingo
  22. The Last Continent
  23. Carpe Jugulum
  24. The Fifth Elephant
  25. The Truth
  26. Thief of Time
  27. The Last Hero
  28. The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents
  29. Night Watch
  30. The Wee Free Men
  31. Monstrous Regiment
  32. A Hat Full of Sky
  33. Going Postal
  34. Thud!
  35. Wintersmith
  36. Making Money
  37. Unseen Academicals
  38. I Shall Wear Midnight
  39. Snuff
  40. Raising Steam

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