Maskerade by Terry Pratchett
Published in 1995
Genre: Fantasy, satire
“The wind howled.”
Maskerade, by Terry Pratchett, is the next book of the Discworld series to focus on the witches. Filled with references to Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musical, The Phantom of the Opera, Maskerade saunters its way through the drama inherent in the dramatic arts and takes no prisoners in its parody of hoity toity opera-goers from the days of yore. Entertaining in its cheekiness, the novel is a welcome satire of a genre that takes itself a little too seriously.
Picking up where Lords and Ladies left off, Magrat is now queen and Nanny realizes she and Granny need a third witch to balance things out again. Granny is more than apprehensive about this, especially when the most likely candidate is Agnes “Perdita” Nitt. A young woman with a cumbersome figure, Agnes takes off from the land of Lancre in order to audition for an opera. She doesn’t want to become a witch despite having been asked by Nanny and Granny, as well as having ethereal power in her voice. She travels to Ankh-Morpork and sings in the chorus at an opera house owned by a former cheese magnate. In this theatre resides a phantom, known simply as The Ghost, who was thought of as a lucky force until members of the company begin turning up dead.
Meanwhile, Nanny writes a book and is only paid $3; when Granny learns this, they track down the printer for royalties and when they are refused, it becomes personal. After receiving the owed funds, Granny dresses up as a rich woman using this newfound wealth (much to Nanny’s chagrin since it is her money) in order to sneak into the opera and catch The Ghost.
Agnes is described as having a wonderful “personality”, but wants to be the star; she creates the persona of Perdita who is more self-confident. She begins receiving nightly lessons from The Ghost and is told to sing the lead parts while the petite Christine acts them out. Agnes wants to be independent and is envious of Christine’s oblivious magnetism; she craves the limelight and a chance to prove herself. She is ultimately given the decision as to whether she wants to remain with the opera or become a witch.
Maskerade makes reference to multiple operas and musicals that will be easily recognized. There is a play on Der Ring des Nibelungen, an operatic cycle by German composer, Richard Wagner. Cats and Les Miserables are also referenced at the end of the novel when the characters describe ideas that could actually be good and make money, as opposed to costly operas. The novel also calls back to the previous books involving the witches, though one shouldn’t be too lost without having read them. Characters from the City Watch books also make appearances and are referred to in passing, which helps add a dimension of connection to the series as a whole.
This novel is built around parody and, as such, doesn’t add too much outside of the realm in terms of exploration of themes or technique. As I have mentioned before, some of the Discworld novels are better than others, and this feels like one that Pratchett wrote simply because he wanted to parody The Phantom of the Opera. That doesn’t make the book bad or a let-down, but it does confine it to mere entertainment rather than something more. Maskerade is a clever take on the thematic motifs of the opera, musicals, and drama that will leave the reader satisfied.
Verdict: 3 operatic references out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of parody, those who enjoy musicals, those who think opera is ridiculous, fans of witches, fans of Terry Pratchett, fans of The Phantom of the Opera, and those with a sense of humor.
Not recommended for: Those who take opera too seriously, those who dislike an extended joke leading to a large woman crooning, those who dislike witty banter, people who don’t like The Phantom of the Opera, or people with no sense of humor.