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There's nothing I like better than to become engrossed in a good fantasy book, and the one of the very best sets of these fantasy books is the Discworld series. I remember the day I stood in the library looking for something new to read, when the cover of one of these books caught my eye, I picked the book up and started reading the first few pages (as you do) and found myself so engrossed that I found myself a seat and spent the next couple of hours finishing the story. That book was Equal Rites and now I'm going to share why this book still holds a special place in my heart….
Before I start telling you about this actual book, perhaps I should set the scene a little. This is the third instalment in the series of books that are set on the fantastical Discworld, a flat, disc shaped world where magic rules the lives of the various witches, wizards, heroes and other unfortunates that inhabit it. Oh, and it just happens to be carried through space on the shoulders of four elephants that in turn stand on the back of a giant turtle. And so on to the story….
If there's one thing the Witches and Wizards of Discworld are sure of, it's that they're going to die, and in fact they have advance knowledge of the very moment of their demise. And so it is that Drum Billet is making his way through a thunderstorm, guided by his staff to (the about to be born) eighth son of an eighth son who will inherit the staff and all the power it holds. As he manages to pass the staff on, in the nick of time, there's only one small detail that seems to have escaped his notice, the baby seems to be missing an important detail that would make her a son….
Right that's it, I'm not going to tell you very much more about the story, except that, as is normal, the baby is given a name (Eskarina or Esk for short), grows up a bit, begins to show some extraordinary talent and sets off to break down the barriers to gaining a wizard education set in place for those of a female persuasion. Something that I've noticed with all the Discworld books, is that the actual plot is secondary to the jokes and characterisations. I'm not saying the story in the book is bad, it's just that it's not really that important, especially when compared to the jokes that it provides.
Our mini-heroine is the precocious Esk, a little girl with a wizard's staff (and the magic that goes with it), too many questions and a very stubborn attitude. As a teen I loved her stubbornness, and the way she never took no for an answer, now I'm a lot older I still love her character and only wish that my children would show some of her innate strength of character. Of course she has her bad points (but don't all children), she can be sulky and at times a little too self-contained, but I still love her.
Of course it wouldn't do for a little girl to go wandering across the world on her own (even a little girl such as Esk), and to accompany her on her travels we have Granny Weatherwax, a witch. Of all the characters in the whole of the series, Granny has to hold my number one spot. With her strangely naïve wisdom, she will never admit to being either lost or unknowledgeable about any circumstance, and she definitely believes that old adage "Granny knows best". In fact she provides the perfect antidote to the rather buffoon-like idiots that call themselves wizards. There are of course many other characters in the book, some more interesting than others, but I'll leave you to discover them.
Now I could start telling you that this book is a parody of the divide between what is (or at least was) expected educationally of boys and girls, or how the Unseen University (were wizards learn to be wizards) is a metaphor for Oxford and Cambridge universities in the 30's, or even that it apes the conflicts between folk-lore and modern knowledge. But, I'm sure you'll work out for yourself what parts of our world are having the mick taken out of them. In fact, to be honest, when I first read this book, it didn't even occur to me that anything was being parodied, what I enjoyed was the writing style and comedy.
And it is this writing style that is what has always impressed me about these books, simple enough so that the younger reader can follow the story and even understand many of the jokes, and yet with so many layers that the adult reader will still be able to gain even more pleasure from reading them. This is, of course, no exception, I enjoyed the book so much as a teenager that I read it in one sitting. At the time there was nothing that even came close to either the style or humour, and this was the book that is responsible for me reading more of the series. On re-reading as an adult, I am perhaps not quite as enthralled, but I still completed the book in one sitting. The trouble is, having read later books in the series, I am a little more critical, I can see that the characters are not quite as well developed as they will be and that the jokes are not quite as subtle or as likely to make me laugh out loud.
Saying that, this book still holds a special place in my heart, and is a perfect introduction to Discworld. I can honestly say that I lost nothing at the time by having not read the previous two books, and that this is suitable for all age groups who may be interested in the fantasy genre. So am I recommending this book? You bet, from the eye-catching cartoon characters on the cover, to Esk, Granny and their adventures held within, this is a brilliant read, that might just answer some of those questions you've always been wondering about, such as Why Gandalf never got married, but there again it might not…..