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Visit Terry Pratchett


Review by
Shirley Muramoto
by Terry Pratchett
Corgi (UK) / Harper Collins (USA)


Imagine if you will, a different world, one not like quite like our own. How different is it? Well, for one thing, it’s not round. Instead, it’s a flat disc, balanced on the backs of four elephants, riding on the back of a giant space turtle wandering through space. It’s a place where Death talks IN ALL CAPITALS, has a fondness for cats, and at one point in his “life” takes a job as a short-order cook. A place where the Librarian at the magical Unseen University is a 300-pound orangutan as the result of a magic gone wrong (but he prefers it that way). And don’t forget the greatest witch in all the lands, Granny Weatherwax, lives in the small village of Bad Ass. And that’s just for starters.

Welcome to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, the whimsical setting for the novel,MASKERADE.

The main part of the story in MASKERADE should be familiar to most readers out there. It involves an opera house, and a young woman with remarkable singing talent, and a mysterious ghost said to haunt the opera house. But, in typical Pratchett fashion, there’s a few twists to the tale.

The book opens with a pair of witches with a bit of a problem. You see, traditionally a coven consists of three witches, and currently (because the youngest witch was recently married off to a king), there are only two: Granny Weatherwax, and Nanny Ogg. And this fact bothers Nanny’s sensibilities (not to mention stirs her fears that an unoccupied Granny might “go bad” and end up like a certain infamous witch who ended up getting stuffed into her own oven by two kids). So Nanny manages to locate a potential third witch to complete the coven. Too bad said potential witch does not want to be a witch, and has instead run off to the big city (the city of Ankh-Morpork, the most happening city in all of Discworld) to join the Opera.

While Nanny works to get Granny interested in a trip to Ankh-Morpork to retrieve the young could-be-a-witch, the run-away herself manages to join the staff of the Opera House. She is Agnes Nitt, a.k.a. Perdita X. Nitt, a young woman stuck with having what they call a “nice personality” (as opposed to having “a miserable personality but a body that could take size nine in dresses”). She also has an extraordinary singing talent, including a vocal range above and beyond the ability of humans to hear, the ability to throw her voice across the room, and could even sing a duet with herself. However, since she’s a very large woman and the managers don’t see her as being much of a crowd-pleaser, they have her provide the voice for a pretty young (and pretty brainless) thing by the name of Christine.

While Agnes works at the Opera House, she learns the legend of the Ghost. The Ghost is a mystery, a kind of specter who both frightens and delights the workers of the Opera House. The Ghost tries to give Christine private voice coaching at night, but the frightened Christine trades bedrooms with Agnes instead. Now for the most part, the people of the Opera House love the Ghost, because they feel he brings them good fortune. Except that lately, the Ghost’s little antics seem to have taken a rather ugly turn. People dying tend to make things turn ugly, after all.

Thus we have Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg in the great city of Ankh-Morpork, trying to solve the mystery of the Ghost while also trying to convince Agnes that being a witch is not a bad thing (but not in a nosy, bossy, busybody kind of way – Granny Weatherwax wouldn’t dream of that). It’s certainly much better than spending one’s life being the shadow-voice for the supposed star of the Opera, as Granny Weatherwax would say. Along the way, we’re entertained with a series of strange occurrences, ranging from a tomcat who occasionally turns into a man (a naked man, who immediately is overcome with the need to cover his manly parts from public view), an organ-playing orangutan, and what must be the world’s smuttiest cookbook.

Obviously a tongue-and-cheek parody, MASKERADE nonetheless stands apart from the original tale which spawned it. This is not a drama filled with love and betrayal, but more of a mystery, peppered with humor and thoughtful insights into human nature. The amazing thing about Terry Pratchett’s works is that he is funny and poignant at the same time. His stories are always filled with little moments of wit and laughter, but the underlying depth and understanding of the very human circumstances in which the characters find themselves is strong.

Take Agnes, for example. Even through the laughter, there’s something sadly truthful to good-natured people describing her as having “a good personality” and “nice hair.” She runs away from home to escape the reality of her life, and the intentions of good-natured people around her. She sees her home as ordinary, and she doesn’t want to be ordinary. She wants to stand out and be different, be noticed. Yet at the same time, she doesn’t want to be labeled as “weird” like the witches, whom she perceives as being strange old ladies who live alone and have no friends and try to drag anyone else with some special talents into their weird group. Agnes’ dilemma is one familiar to many of us – it’s typical teenage angst. And as such, we can all relate to it, understand it.

The same is true with so many of the characters that inhabit this story. They have a depth and a complexity that really makes them come alive. And it’s that feeling of real humanity, combined with a clever story and witty humor, which makes MASKERADE a thoroughly enjoyable read.

4 out of 5


This review copyright 2005 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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