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Terry Pratchett hits on all cylinders with Maskerade, a send-up of Opera in it’s many forms, Discworld style. Now that Magrat Garlick has become queen, the witches coven is short a member. Granny and Nanny set their sights on Agnes Nitt, who has natural talent for ‘headology’. The trouble is, Agnes wants to sing and has headed off to Ankh-Morpork to join the opera. Unfortunately for Agnes, even though she can sing a duet with herself, she doesn’t have the figure for a prima donna, and is forced to into covering for the female star of the show. All the while, a mysterious masked man is killing people associated with the opera company, which, though making money hand over fist, seems to be losing it even more quickly.
Maskerade continues the rehabilitation of my thinking about the Witches books. The previous book, Lords and Ladies was much better than I remembered, and now Maskerade continues that trend, being almost non-stop funny. Pratchett is in fine form, skewering everything operatic: the silly storylines, the enmity between the singers, dancers and orchestra, the Italian sounding names of the stars, the costumes and stage settings and, yes, the musical ‘The Phantom of the Opera’. Pratchett also adds a nice mystery surrounding the ghost of the opera house and his motivations. Add in the hilarious sub-plot around Nanny Ogg’s cookbook, and Maskerade is one of the funniest Discworld novels I’ve read to date.
I think it works well because it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it isn’t trying to push a message. Heck, Greebo returns to human form as Mr. Graebeaux and drives the women into a tizzy. And Sam Vimes’ hand can be seen in the background as the City Watch takes an interest in the goings on at the opera house. But you don’t have to be steeped in Discworld lore to enjoy Maskerade, that knowledge adds depth to the story, but it isn’t essential.
About the only negative I can see is that, if you aren’t up on opera, you may miss things that more opera savvy people might pick up on. I think Pratchett has done a good job making the opera storyline work, but I’m sure I missed some things because I don’t frequent (or infrequent) the opera. I can say this: if opera were more like what happened in Maskerade, I’d go more often (or at all).