Book reviews

Equal Rites – Terry Pratchett

Release date: 15 January 1987
Rating: ★★★★★★★★ – 8/10
Goodreads link
Book Depository link (link is for clothbound editions; pictures above are the versions I own, the paperbacks which I’m not entirely sure you can buy anymore)

Equal Rites (Discworld, #3) blurb:

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…

Once again, before we get started, I am reading the ENTIRE Discworld series with Nicole from The Bookwork Drinketh and Kathy from Pages Below the Vaulted Sky (who seriously has the coolest blog name ever). And if you would like to join us (one book per month for about 17 years, give or take), then please feel free to contact either of the above amazing peeps.

Now, can I start off with two things:

  1. This was supposed to be posted a week ago. I somehow thought that the 30th of September was a Monday… not a Sunday. So then when I saw Kathy’s post I thought “wow, she’s totally organised!”, only to discover on Sunday that the following day (today) was October… oops?!
  2. It has been sooooo long since I read this book that I forgot what it was about. In fact, about three chapters in, I was very confused as I thought the storyline for Equal Rites was the storyline for Sourcery. It was a really strange and confusing first 50 pages.

This book follows the story of Eskarina Smith (Esk) in her pursuits of becoming the Disc’s very first female wizard.

Now, can I start with a bit of a rant? I know that this book is absolutely supposed to rile my feminist feathers, as it is a satire on gender equality, misogyny and sexism. And more than that, it was written in the late 1980’s, when sexism towards women was hugely prevalent (not that it isn’t still, but it was more so then).

The worst part of this, for me, is that Granny is my favourite character on the Disc. She is my original McGonagall. When everyone else read Harry Potter at age 12, I was reading Discworld stories. (To be fair, the first HP wasn’t published until I was 14 and I didn’t read it until I was 19 and book five was coming out.) I had (until my reread) zero recollection of Granny not only condoning these sexist practices, but upholding them, which is probably the most disappointing thing in this entire book for me. In fact, I was so upset by this, I nearly gave the book a rating of 6/10. Yup, lower than The Light Fantastic. And I don’t even like Rincewind.

I tried not to note too many misogynistic quotes, but this one kind of sums them all up:

No-one liked magic, especially in the hands of a woman. You never could tell what they might might take into their heads to do next.

However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom (although there was a fair chunk of it). I don’t normally share this many quotes, but I started using tabs when I was reading this (to try it out) and I tabbed so many bits to share! There were many instances where I loved Granny, the unofficial head of witches:

‘They’re both magic. If you can’t learn to ride an elephant, you can at least learn to ride a horse.’
‘What’s an elephant?’
‘A kind of badger,’ said Granny. She hadn’t maintained forest-credibility for forty years by ever admitting ignorance.

Granny shifted uneasily. ‘Yes, well,’ she said. ‘It’s all according. You just hold their hand and people do their own fortune-telling. But there’s no need to go around believing it, we’d all be in trouble if we went around believing everything.’

Granny smiled grimly. It was the sort of smile that wolves ran away from. Granny grasped her broomstick purposefully.
‘Million-to-one chances,’ she said, ‘crop up nine times out of ten.’

Plus some wizard-y goodness (that only made me want to stab them a tiny bit):

From long white hair to curly boots, Treatle was a wizard’s wizard. He had the appropriate long bushy eyebrows, spangled robe and patriarchal beard that was only slightly spoiled by the yellow nicotine stains (wizards are celibate but, nevertheless, enjoy a good cigar).

That’s wizards for you, he thought gloomily as he waded between the dripping arches, always probing the infinite but never noticing the definite, especially in the matter of household chores.

And just some general love of the world building, descriptive language and general Pratchett-ness of the whole thing. The first and second are probably my favourite because it’s our first introduction to The Shades (and Ankh-Morpork in general). The paragraphs really speak for themselves, but a million years ago when I played the text-based Discworld MUD game, you only ventured into The Shades if you were a very high level character because, if you weren’t, you would often find yourself beheaded and then returned to The Drum.

They had been in Ankh-Morpork for three days and Granny was starting to enjoy herself, much to her surprise. She had found them lodgings in The Shades, an ancient part of the city whose inhabitants were largely nocturnal and never inquired about one another’s business because curiosity not only killed the cat but threw it in the river with weights tied to its feet.

The terrors of civilization had so far failed to materialise, although a cutpurse had tried to make off with Granny’s handbag. To the amazement of passers-by Granny called him back, and back he came, fighting his feet which had totally ceased to obey him. No-one quite saw what happened to her eyes when she stared into his face, or heard the words she whispered into his cowering ear, but he gave her back all her money, plus quite a lot of money belonging to other people, and before she let him go had promised to have a shave, stand up straight, and be a better person for the rest of his life. By nightfall, Granny’s description was circulated to all the chapter houses of the Guild of Thieves, Cutpurses, Housebreakers and Allied Trades, with strict instructions to avoid her at all costs.

One thing water couldn’t do was gurgle out of the ornamental gargoyles ranged around the roofs. This was because the gargoyles wandered off and sheltered in the attics at the first sign of rain. They held that just because you were ugly it didn’t mean you were stupid.

Mist curled between the houses as the wizard crossed a narrow bridge over the swollen stream and made his way to the village smithy, although the two facts had nothing to do with one another. The mist would have curled anyay: it was experienced mist and had got curing down to a fine art.

I also really love the fourth-wall breaking that, while normally is reserved for Deadpool-type adventures, still absolutely works here (even though the references are very 80’s):

Beams of blue light lanced out into the corridor, moving and dancing as indistinct shapes shuffled through the blinding brilliance inside the room. The light was misty and actinic, the sort of light to make Steven Spielberg reach for his copyright lawyer.

All in all, I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would – mostly due to my mis-remembering the plot. But, I’m keeping my original rating of 8/10 for it nonetheless.

Other delightful book nerds (who can read a calendar) for this month are:

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky

Nicole @ The Bookworm Drinketh

Book Beach Bunny

A Storm of Pages



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