After all the grousing I’ve done about how much I dislike Terry Pratchett‘s wizard’s, I’m overdue for talking about how I like his witches, starting with Equal Rites. For one thing, it has a wonderful opening line.
This is a story about magic and where it goes and perhaps more importantly where it comes from and why, although it doesn’t pretend to answer all or any of these questions.
Then a dying wizard hands over his staff to the eighth son of an eighth son, not knowing his heir is a girl, Eskaterina. Esk turns out to be a classic Spunky Girl of courage and innocence. I love the way she asks for directions to Ankh-Morpork and sets off for the Unseen University, where she expects to become a wizard. I love how the staff protects her as fiercely as the Luggage. I love how her transformation of the beer of an unscrupulous innkeeper sends him into a paroxysm of greed. You just know he’s about to tumble over the cliff of justice.
This book is the first appearance of Granny Weatherwax, a cranky wielder of “headology,” or a proto-Granny. She seems less powerful, and less sure of herself than she does in the later books. Actually, there’s a fair amount of this book that doesn’t seem to quite fit in with the others. For instance, you’d think the first female wizard would be a big deal, but this seems to be Esk’s only appearance.
In the end, it turns out that the way to defeat evil is to have magic, but not use it. So if that’s the true purpose of the Unseen University, to prevent the wizards from using their magic, well, that part is still there in the other books.