Maskerade by Terry Pratchett. ★★★★1/2
Maskerade‘s the eighteenth Discworld novel and follows the witches. It would help to have read the other witches books – you can start with Wyrd Sisters – but you can probably go without if the idea of a comedic story centered around opera has a specific appeal to you.
Maskerade is a mystery story that riffs off The Phantom of the Opera. Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg are missing Magrat and sorely feel the need for a new witch to take her place in the coven (to be in charge of tea making duties if nothing else). Nanny Ogg remembers that Agnes Nitt from Lords and Ladies had a talent for witchcraft, but Agnes has left Lancre to join the opera in Ankh-Morepork, where people are mysteriously dying at the hands of the “Ghost.”
“There’s a kind of magic in masks. Masks conceal one face, but they reveal another. The one that only comes out in darkness. I bet you could do just what you liked, behind a mask … ?”
Maskerade is a story about masks, identities, and hiding who you are. The Ghost hides behind a white mask, and Agnes herself hides behind the name Perdita.
“Oh yes? Can you identify yourself?”
“Certainly. I’d know me anywhere.”
Like the rest of the witches books, Maskerade is focused around the female characters, which makes it unusual and enjoyable. Granny and Nanny continue to be wonderful. Agnes is a capable heroine in her own right. Some of the language surrounding Agnes’s weight is troubling, but she’s one of the only female protagonists I’ve encountered who isn’t skinny.
The plot of Maskerade is really a mystery story. I’d actually forgotten the solution, so I had the pleasure of rediscovering it this time around. It’s well woven, and the pacing’s on point. There’s also references to opera and musical theater, and I’m sure there’s even more I didn’t catch.
“You can either be on the stage, just a performer, just going through the lines… or you can be outside it, and know how the script works, where the scenery hangs, and where the trapdoors are.”
Although set in a fantasy world, Maskerade‘s one of those Discworld books that doesn’t have much magic or fantasy elements. There’s Death, a troll appears in one scene, a cat changes into a human, Agnes has a magically gifted singing voice… that’s about it really. I think this lends it to working well for people who aren’t generally interested in fantasy. As far as I know, my grandmother doesn’t read much speculative fiction, but she loved Maskerade.
So I’d recommend Maskerade to anyone looking for a funny book, particularly if it involves female characters and the opera.