Review: Maskerade, by Terry Pratchett

Russ Allbery eagle at
Mon May 30 19:49:54 PDT 2022

by Terry Pratchett

Series:    Discworld #18
Publisher: Harper
Copyright: 1995
Printing:  February 2014
ISBN:      0-06-227552-6
Format:    Mass market
Pages:     360

Maskerade is the 18th book of the Discworld series, but you probably
could start here. You'd miss the introduction of Granny Weatherwax and
Nanny Ogg, which might be a bit confusing, but I suspect you could pick
it up as you went if you wanted. This is a sequel of sorts to Lords and
Ladies, but not in a very immediate sense.

Granny is getting distracted and less interested in day-to-day witching
in Lancre. This is not good; Granny is incredibly powerful, and bored
and distracted witches can go to dark places. Nanny is concerned.
Granny needs something to do, and their coven needs a third. It's not
been the same since they lost their maiden member.

Nanny's solution to this problem is two-pronged. First, they'd had
their eye on a local girl named Agnes, who had magic but who wasn't
interested in being a witch. Perhaps it was time to recruit her anyway,
even though she'd left Lancre for Ankh-Morpork. And second, Granny
needs something to light a fire under her, something that will get her
outraged and ready to engage with the world. Something like a cookbook
of aphrodisiac recipes attributed to the Witch of Lancre.

Agnes, meanwhile, is auditioning for the opera. She's a sensible
person, cursed her whole life by having a wonderful personality, but a
part of her deep inside wants to be called Perdita X. Dream and have a
dramatic life. Having a wonderful personality can be very frustrating,
but no one in Lancre took either that desire or her name seriously.
Perhaps the opera is somewhere where she can find the life she's
looking for, along with another opportunity to try on the Perdita name.
One thing she can do is sing; that's where all of her magic went.

The Ankh-Morpork opera is indeed dramatic. It's also losing an
astounding amount of money for its new owner, who foolishly thought
owning an opera would be a good retirement project after running a
cheese business. And it's haunted by a ghost, a very tangible ghost who
has started killing people.

I think this is my favorite Discworld novel to date (although with a
caveat about the ending that I'll get to in a moment). It's certainly
the one that had me laughing out loud the most. Agnes (including her
Perdita personality aspect) shot to the top of my list of favorite
Discworld characters, in part because I found her sensible personality
so utterly relatable. She is fascinated by drama, she wants to be in
the middle of it and let her inner Perdita goth character revel in it,
and yet she cannot help being practical and unflappable even when
surrounded by people who use far too many exclamation points. It's one
thing to want drama in the abstract; it's quite another to be
heedlessly dramatic in the moment, when there's an obviously reasonable
thing to do instead. Pratchett writes this wonderfully.

The other half of the story follows Granny and Nanny, who are
unstoppable forces of nature and a wonderful team. They have the sort
of long-standing, unshakable adult friendship between very unlike
people that's full of banter and minor irritations layered on top of a
deep mutual understanding and respect. Once they decide to start
investigating this supposed opera ghost, they divvy up the
investigative work with hardly a word exchanged. Planning isn't
necessary; they both know each other's strengths.

We've gotten a lot of Granny's skills in previous books. Maskerade
gives Nanny a chance to show off her skills, and it's a delight. She
effortlessly becomes the sort of friendly grandmother who blends in so
well that no one questions why she's there, and thus manages to be in
the middle of every important event. Granny watches and thinks and
theorizes; Nanny simply gets into the middle of everything and talks to
everyone until people tell her what she wants to know. There's no real
doubt that the two of them are going to get to the bottom of anything
they want to get to the bottom of, but watching how they get there is a

I love how Pratchett handles that sort of magical power from a
world-building perspective. Ankh-Morpork is the Big City, the center of
political power in most of the Discworld books, and Granny and Nanny
are from the boondocks. By convention, that means they should either be
awed or confused by the city, or gain power in the city by transforming
it in some way to match their area of power. This isn't how Pratchett
writes witches at all. Their magic is in understanding people, and the
people in Ankh-Morpork are just as much people as the people in Lancre.
The differences of the city may warrant an occasional grumpy aside, but
the witches are fully as capable of navigating the city as they are
their home town.

Maskerade is, of course, a parody of opera and musicals, with Phantom
of the Opera playing the central role in much the same way that Macbeth
did in Wyrd Sisters. Agnes ends up doing the singing for a beautiful,
thin actress named Christine, who can't sing at all despite being an
opera star, uses a truly astonishing excess of exclamation points, and
strategically faints at the first sign of danger. (And, despite all of
this, is still likable in that way that it's impossible to be really
upset at a puppy.) She is the special chosen focus of the ghost, whose
murderous taunting is a direct parody of the Phantom. That was a
sufficiently obvious reference that even I picked up on it, despite
being familiar with with Phantom of the Opera only via the soundtrack.

Apart from that, though, the references were lost on me, since I'm
neither a musical nor an opera fan. That didn't hurt my enjoyment of
the book in the slightest; in fact, I suspect it's part of why it's in
my top tier of Discworld books. One of my complaints about Discworld to
date is that Pratchett often overdoes the parody to the extent that it
gets in the way of his own (excellent) characters and story. Maybe it's
better to read Discworld novels where one doesn't recognize the
material being parodied and thus doesn't keep getting distracted by

It's probably worth mentioning that Agnes is a large woman and there
are several jokes about her weight in Maskerade. I think they're the
good sort of jokes, about how absurd human bodies can be, not the mean
sort? Pratchett never implies her weight is any sort of moral failing
or something she should change; quite the contrary, Nanny considers it
a sign of solid Lancre genes. But there is some fat discrimination in
the opera itself, since one of the things Pratchett is commenting on is
the switch from full-bodied female opera singers to thin actresses
matching an idealized beauty standard. Christine is the latter, but she
can't sing, and the solution is for Agnes to sing for her from behind,
something that was also done in real opera. I'm not a good judge of how
well this plot line was handled; be aware, going in, if this may bother

What did bother me was the ending, and more generally the degree to
which Granny and Nanny felt comfortable making decisions about Agnes's
life without consulting her or appearing to care what she thought of
their conclusions. Pratchett seemed to be on their side, emphasizing
how well they know people. But Agnes left Lancre and avoided the
witches for a reason, and that reason is not honored in much the same
way that Lancre refused to honor her desire to go by Perdita. This
doesn't seem to be malicious, and Agnes herself is a little uncertain
about her choice of identity, but it still rubbed me the wrong way. I
felt like Agnes got steamrolled by both the other characters and by
Pratchett, and it's the one thing about this book that I didn't like.
Hopefully future Discworld books about these characters revisit Agnes's

Overall, though, this was great, and a huge improvement over
Interesting Times. I'm excited for the next witches book.

Followed in publication order by Feet of Clay, and later by Carpe
Jugulum in the thematic sense.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2022-05-30


Russ Allbery (eagle at             <>

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