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A novel by Terry Pratchett
(1995, Victor Gollancaz Ltd)

Discworld Witches, book 5

While trying to find a third witch for their coven, Granny and Nanny travel to the big city where they encounter a ghost in an opera house.


-- First reading (hardcover)
April 7th to 13th, 2005


From the first few pages of the book, this seemed like a familiar story... and when Christine showed up, I knew this had to be a parody of The Phantom of the Opera.

As usual with these discworld books, I was laughing out loud for the first few days while reading the passages, but as time went on, and the pages went on, I laughed less and less. I wonder if the books get less funny, though I can't be sure. I think that when I start the books, the tongue-in-cheek narration is refreshing, and I remember how enjoyable it is. However, as I go through the story, I get used to the writing, and the light narration turns into simply narration. Unfortunately, I would like the laughter to continue to the end, and my rating reflects this.

Spoiler review:

I still think Nanny Ogg is the funniest part of these books. She gets things rolling here, sending the witches off on another adventure. It seems that every second book takes them away from Lancre. Granny Weatherwax needs this, however, as she is constantly moping around since Magrat got married to the king in the last book. So while Nanny probably didn't intend for their adventure to start this way, they end up going to Anhk-Morpork because of a cookbook that she wrote. And what a cookbook it was! I'm assuming that this is not the cookbook that is sold in retail stores, as it is full of sexual innuendo, and secret aphrodisiac ingredients.

Part of their story is the journey to the big city, as Granny thinks the book publisher owes Nanny a lot more commission. Instead of going by broomstick, they hijack a coach. It is an adventure all itself for the other occupants! Except for a large man, a singer for the opera, who is going under a false name and pretends he doesn't speak the local language. Listening in on his bath time singing through the wall at the inn was hilarious.

Also at the opera is a potential witch, Agnes Nitt, whom Nanny thinks can be the third witch in their coven. Granny doesn't think Agnes will be much of a witch, but that's just her personality -she didn't think much of Magrat, either, and she was pretty good at witching. But Agnes doesn't want to be a witch, and goes to be an opera singer in Anhk-Morpork. However, even she realizes how witch-like she is being at the opera house, as she looks for clues to the nature of the ghost, the insanities of opera, and she even avoids double mirrors!

Most of the enjoyment of the book comes in the witty way the author writes. I liked his decomposition of opera, the way "the show must go on", and the crazy things that go on behind the scenes. The fact that people were constantly being murdered was a big draw at the box-office. The author kept us guessing as to the identity of the ghost for a long time, though as Granny made her guesses, I found myself paralleling her.

Both Nanny and Granny are smart and observant, but in very different ways. They are also both naive and clueless in their own ways. Nanny, for example, couldn't see that the opera singer was trying to hide his identity, but respected that Agnes was trying to reinvent herself as Perdita X. Granny couldn't understand Agnes' desire for a new name, but could see that the ghost and the murderer were not the same person right from the start. When she stated it, it was obvious.

Walter was the obvious choice for both ghost and murderer. I couldn't see him as the latter after getting to know him, though. The mask made his stand straighter, and I liked the permanent invisible mask that Granny had made for him. I thought the murderer was André, as he was quite probing and suspicious. Secret policeman didn't cross my mind! In hindsight, the music director Salzella was obviously the discontented murderer. But I didn't see it.

To get into the roles and undercover, Granny decides to become a Lady. She dresses up well, and has no problem spending Nanny's newfound fortune from the publishing industry. I had forgotten how the witches had turned Greebo the cat into a man in one of the last books -his metamorphosis continued spontaneously here, and they used that to give Granny an escort. The chase scene of Phantom of the Opera was given new meaning when the mob went after Greebo, and he turned back into a cat.

I liked the way everybody thought that the chandelier was very menacing and would be very operatic if it fell onto everybody. The murderer tried, but was foiled by Nanny Ogg.

Nanny, out for revenge for Granny spending all of her money, prepares one of her special sauces for the dinner that Granny attends... I loved the way Granny held her calm, but could boil water by holding her glass.

The solution to the plot is way too complicated to accurately describe. It was very operatic, however, as they trapped Salzella at his own game, even as he takes Christine hostage and she faints dramatically. Walter in his new ghost mask stabs him in an operatic way, after which he dies a horrible and very long death. He even got out a little more maniacal laughter, as he had written on all of those notes!

Speaking of Death, there was a very tender scene near the beginning of the book where Granny hustles Death at cards, to determine whether he should allow a baby to die or not. She was terrific standing up to him, and it seems that he might even be afraid of her! Perhaps after their encounter in Witches Abroad, he is.

I liked the cover of this book, as well. It was quite funny, with Nanny Ogg, Agnes and Greebo very obvious, and Granny Weatherwax a little less conspicuous in the background.

The opera house is finally able to make money again (Salzella was stealing from it), thanks to Walter, who seems to have written all of Andrew Lloyd Webber's plays, and others besides. Nanny discovered this in the caves in the sub-basement, and the way she describes shows like Cats, Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, and Evita (among others) was quite enjoyable.

In the end, the witches go back to Lancre, and Agnes joins them, taking over the abused part of the coven previously occupied by Magrat. Granny allows herself to bleed from grabbing the sharp end of the blade at the opera house when they get back, showing how powerful she really is.

So this turned out to be another enjoyable Discworld novel, but it did manage to drag on a bit after a certain point. I'm not sure if that is my fault, or if the book just can't keep the momentum it built for the first hundred pages. Regardless, I keep enjoying the books enough to continue with the series.


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