I am a huge Terry Pratchett fan, his Discworld collection is a majestic vision of a humorous, dangerous and quite absurd universe within which anything is possible. That being said some of those stories are better than others.
His first two books in the series, The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, for instance are not exactly his best. They are certainly quite funny and take a parodic shots at many fantasy tropes, but because of that they don’t really have their own voice. Those two novels feel disjointed, like a bunch of jokes held together with the flimsiest bit of plot tape.
His third novel though, Equal Rites is definetly where Pratchett finds his own voice, now he has a real plot and some actual storytelling behind the wonderfully crafted jokes.
At its core Equal Rites is a tale about equality and the injustices of the Discworld, and it does a great job of exploring these themes while maintaining a witty tone. While I greatly enjoyed the first two books in the series it was really Equal Rites that first got me hooked onto Terry Pratchett.
This is a fun, humerous, and well crafted story about a young girl names Esk and her experiences of growing up in the world of magic. As the third in the series Pratchett doesn’t bother diving too much into the Discworld mythology, this allows him to progress the story much more easily, yet sadly this will leave big points of confusion for readers who may start their journey here.
The story is simple, there’s nothing ground-breaking here at all, yet it is well executed and the main character is remarkably charming, making for an all around fantastic read.
One criticism I would have though is the finale, the grand spectacular ending we were promised page after page is none existent, the great battle between witches and wizards is highjacked and ignored, possibly so as not to fundamentally change the social status of the Discworld, yet it feels like a copout all the same, and makes the entire journey seem almost pointless.
The biggest strength of Equal Rites is the wonderful character development we get to experience. Unlike the first two stories the character here feel more fleshed out, more real rather than simple one dimensional parodies of other, bigger, fantasy characters. These beings are charming, witty, likeable, but also hugely flawed, and it is their moments of self actualisation that are the most interesting to me. Throughout the novel these characters grow, change, evolve, they become better, or indeed worse, than they were when we first met them.
Characters are a huge part of Pratchett’s writing so it’s great to see that even early on in his career he was so adept at this skill.
Of course with Equal Rites being so early in his Discworld career there are some low points. He spends too long trying to explain Discworld’s magic and how it works, this is tedious and unnecessary and upsets the otherwise excellent flow of the novel.
The best thing about Equal Rites though is its ability to resonate with people, whether or not they are a fan of fantasy novels there is something to love about this book. The story of a young girl asking why women can’t be wizards transcends the genre, and while it’s not a masterpiece it is a strong and easy to read novel that explores those real world topics in a unique and brilliantly funny way.