Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett. ★★★★
Equal Rites is the third Discworld book and may actually be a good one to start the series on. While the previous two books were primarily satires of the fantasy genre, Equal Rites is the first Discworld book where Pratchett begins to satirize the real world. Other good books to start with are Guards! Guards!, Going Postal, or Small Gods.
In Equal Rites, a dying wizard passes along his powers to the eighth son of an eighth son, who is currently being born. Only, the son turns out to be a daughter, making Eskarina Smith a female wizard. Only, women who practice magic are supposed to be witches not wizards…
Essentially, Pratchett’s challenging and playing with the magic and gender dichotomy, where if women have magic at all, it is entirely separate from (and often viewed as inferior to) men’s magic. This is what annoyed me about the first Earthsea book so much. Esk is a young girl determined to be who she is, no matter what people tell her she should be, but she lives in a world where “she could sense doors being slammed before she had barely begun to open them.” Esk is a very sympathetic protagonist, a nine year old girl who’s just trying to find her own way.
“She was already learning that if you ignore the rules people will, half the time, quietly rewrite them so that they don’t apply to you.”
This is also the first book featuring Granny Weatherwax, a major character in the series. Here Granny is a mentor of sorts for Esk. Originally, Granny is bent on teaching Esk witch craft and keeping her from becoming a wizard. But then Granny realizes: is she doing this for Esk or for herself? From then on, Granny is going to help Esk get into the Unseen University, and woe to any wizard who tries to stop her.
What’s remarkable is that this still one of the weaker Discworld novels that people tend to forget about, which really tells you something about the series as a whole. I’d recommend this one to… well, pretty much everyone. Certainly for anyone looking for humorous fantasy or fantasy centering around female characters.
I really like the cover on the left!