So now that Terry has come up with this world held atop four enormous elephants supported by a giant space turtle he has to figure what to do with it. So after spending two books talking about Rincewind trying to get home to Unseen University he hits upon the genius idea of having someone else trying to get there. That being a small girl gripping an old mans gnarled and slightly twisted wood. Here Practhett is going to be invoking ……………..
As we saw in the last book Terry likes his puns and it’s entirely possible that this book was born almost entirely out of that. Drum Billet is looking to push off this mortal coil and pass on his wizards staff to a worthy successor and he may have found one in the small town of Bad-Ass where there is soon to be born an eighth son of an eighth son. With his usual wizard pig headedness he thrusts the staff into the waiting cherub like hands without checking little things like what the baby is hiding under the blanket; or not as the case may be. While he goes off and becomes a tree in a peaceful retirement slash reincarnation she has to deal with the possibility of being the Discs first female wizard, something that nobody is really happy about.
Least of all Granny Weatherwax the local witch who hopes she can knock this nonsense out of her and get her on the straight and narrow of witch hood. However after Esk becomes an eagle and buggers off for a few weeks Granny figures that maybe it would be better for the wizards to have a crack at educating her especially because the magic in her is bubbling out like an over flowing drain and turning children into pigs and beer into milk. The pair set of on a surprisingly easy journey considering that all roads lead away from Ankh Morpork. It looks like they might be arriving just in the nick of time too as she isn’t the only new recruit to the university and this one is so big and bright that he is literally in danger of warping the fabric of the universe around him and there are things on the other side who are more than willing to try and take advantage of that.
Equal Rites is one of those books that often get’s overlooked in the Discworld canon for a few reasons. The first is that it’s early enough in the timeline that Pratchett hasn’t really mastered his style just yet or at least not settled into the one that won the series such acclaim and fame. The second is that while Practhett has often pitched new series in the line to the readers this one ended up being one for the side character of Granny rather than the lead Esk who was never seen again*. That’s not the only thing that is paid forward as we near the end of the book we see creatures living under the University that have managed to absorb so much background magical radiation as to become a sentient race or discussions on million to one odds. We even see the possible budding romance between Granny and the arch chancellor. Yet none are quite right yet except for perhaps Granny Weatherwax who is pretty much written whole upon the page.
It also centres it’s entire plot around Unseen University the home of our last lead rather than say Moist who focused on the post office and facility of the city we kind of assumed was there but never spent much grey matter on processing. This wouldn’t be so bad if it was the Uni we left in the last book but while the fan favourite Librarian pops up Rincewind is nowhere to be seen despite him being left in charge last we saw. In fact you could almost write those last two books off if it weren’t for the now familiar “ook” coming from behind the pile of books and the rather life like statues of wizards in the hall. Though that one could just be from me desperate to find more than one link to the previous books when there are at this point only three to connect. The argument “You said you could fly one of these things!” “No I didn’t; I just said you couldn’t!” is, afterall, rather hard to pass off as a piece of continuity. This wouldn’t be so bad if the soon to be typical faculty were present but if you’re after them you have over five more books to go yet. Meaning that Granny seems to attract Wizards of power I guess.
Thus you’re left with a book mostly about no one you will ever see again and yet feel like you should what with this being the dawn of the ‘Witches’ series and a visit to Unseen U. If you take it as such it isn’t great to be honest for while Pratchett has ditched the whole romaing narrative playing upon travelogues and road movies he doesn’t seem to have figured out the ability to raise tension and pace up to the end of the book in something approaching a climatic finish. We get to the University about half way through the book after dossing around the country side for a bit and once there we hear about Simon and how his grasp might be exceeding his grasp and talk from Esk about how he might be going too far but there never feels like there is any real tension. Even the last book has buildups in each individual tale or a sense of it with the growing star in the sky. Esk has more meat on her than Rincewind but not as much as some of the later characters which is perhaps why she was overlooked in future instalments with Rincewind saved for simple tales and the others brought out for more complicated tales. That or it could be because it was based on his at the time eleven year old daughter and it would feel weird taking this any further. Though if this origin is true you have to wince a little at the line “a small girl with brown hair, a gap in her front teeth, and the sort of features that promised to become, if not beautiful, then at least attractively interesting.”
Maybe this is why when she finally brings the watch to the small screen they are going to be joined by an ugly old Troll called Terry who laughs at his own jokes.