Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett

Rating 8.5/10
Equal Rites is a story that I think will resonate with everybody.

The last thing the wizard Drum Billet did, before Death laid a bony hand on his shoulder, was to pass on his staff of power to the eighth son of an eighth son. Unfortunately for his colleagues in the chauvinistic (not to say misogynistic) world of magic, he failed to check on the new-born baby's sex...

Terry Pratchett is a man who needs no introduction, he is a brilliant author and a true powerhouse in the fantasy writing community. The thing is you probably wouldn't have predicted that after reading his first two books (The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic). These two books were just a random collection of jokes with a very loose plot, a parody of many traditional fantasy tropes. They were funny, they had charm, they had their own sense of magic and wonder, but they were also very disjointed and lacking in direction. His third book, Equal Rites, was a significant departure from the first two as Pratchett moved away from the collection of random parodies and into some actual storytelling. At its heart, Equal Rites is a story about equality and it does a great job at exploring this theme in a way that really resonates with me. This is the book that first showed me the potential of fantasy writing, the book that truly got me hooked on the wondrous land of Discworld.

Equal Rites is a fun, creative, and easy to read story about a young girl named Esk and her adventures growing up in a world of magic. Unlike the first two Discworld novels Equal Rites assumes that the reader has a basic understanding of Discworld fundamentals, allowing the story to progress at a much more even pace but leaving big holes for those who are unfamiliar with the setting. The story is a simple one that has been executed well, it is very good at sucking you right in, and often you will find yourself wondering where those last couple of hours went. My only criticism about the story is with the ending, the whole story was building towards a big showdown between wizards and witches only to have it hijacked by an unseen enemy. The major conflict in the book that I wanted to read was neatly avoided and I think that avoidance is what stops this book from being more than just an entertaining story about wizards and witches. A lost opportunity given all the build-up work that been put into the story.

One element that never wavers in this story is the character development, the big strength of this book. The characters are funny, charming, likeable, inquisitive, and flawed; they are not just fantasy parodies, they are real people. Some of the best moments in this story are when the characters experience the realisation of their flaws for the first time and are forced to deal with them, and they always do, usually in spectacular fashion. Characters interaction is another big strength, the dialogue is sharp and witty, the banter really flows, and you get the sense that you are watching real people having real interactions with one another. Character building is a hallmark of Pratchetts writing, and its great to see just how strong it was so early in his writing career.

Pratchett's writing is a lot better in this book than the first two, a clear demonstration of how a writers craft matures the more they write. His writing style this early in the series is still very hit and miss with some amazing sections of dialogue offset by some average world building, in particular the scenes where he tries to explain the how magic of Discworld works. Tedious. The pacing in this story is pretty good for the most part, with a smooth start and a fast finish broken up by some slow staccato sections in the middle. These sections seem to correspond with the magic description sections which makes sense to me as these sections are quite confusing and often require a couple of re-reads to understand the point Pratchett is trying to make. On the whole the writing is a vast improvement on the first two books and while there may be a few issues with the writing it us great to have an A to B narrative that had been previously missing.

Equal Rites is a story that I think will resonate with everybody, whether or not you are a fan of Discworld, whether or not you are a fan of the fantasy genre. The story of a young girl asking why women can't be wizards explores some themes that I think transcend genres, and while Pratchett didn't take full advantage of this opportunity to create a masterpiece, he did deliver a strong message to the rest of the world that fantasy is a relevant genre that can be used explore topical issues in ways that other genres cannot.

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