September 19, 2023 9:23 AM - Subscribe

Agnes Nitt, the very model of a modern operatic soprano, has left the Ramtops for Ankh-Morpork, seeking her future on the stage, while also fleeing her future as the third witch in the Lancre Coven. Unfortunately, she's built like an operatic soprano at a time when the company wants beautiful waifs in the lead roles. Also unfortunately, the Ankh-Morpork Opera House is haunted, and the ghost has become murderous of late. And also also unfortunately, Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax are on their way into town to have a word with her... (Witches #5, Discworld #18) By Terry Pratchett.

Ahoy-hoy, and welcome to the Discworld Book Club! In the Spring, we did a bit of bouncing around, and are now filling in the remaining blanks in our trek through the massive amount of Terry Pratchett's immortal comic fantasy series. Previously:

The Color of Magic
The Light Fantastic
Equal Rites
Wyrd Sisters
Guards! Guards!
Moving Pictures
Reaper Man
Witches Abroad
Small Gods
Lords and Ladies
Men At Arms
Soul Music
Interesting Times
Feet of Clay
The Fifth Elephant
The Truth
Night Watch
Monstrous Regiment
Going Postal
Making Money
The Shepherd's Crown

Following this order of filling in the blanks, our next entry will be Hogfather.


A phantom! A phantom haunting an opera house of all places!

Agnes Nitt has reached an age where she can make her own decisions, thank you very much, and one of those decisions is which of her talents to follow. If she stays in Lancre, she's bound to become a witch (an area in which she has some undeniable aptitude), but if she sets out for the big city of Ankh-Morpork, she can put her phenomenal vocal skills to use on the stage of the Opera House. Like most young people with the means to do so, she chooses the latter.

But having the best voice in the opera's company isn't enough, since Agnes is a big girl and the powers-that-be would really like it if the young, thin, and beautiful Christine could play all the ingenue roles (she has no singing voice to speak of, and not a lot of brains, but she's blessed with "stage presence" and her father lent the opera house's new owner, Seldom Bucket, a large sum of money for the purchase.)

So Agnes' role is in the chorus, secretly singing Christine's parts from behind her. Which isn't great. Her thinner, meaner, more confident alter-ego Perdita X. Dream is taking over her thoughts and actions quite a bit, leading to some questionable choices on Agnes' part. Oh, and the opera house is haunted by a Ghost, who has generally been a lucky charm for the company until those recent, seemingly random, murders started up. But hey, that's the theatre for you! The show must go on!

Nanny Ogg has also been stretching her creative muscles, writing a Cookbook, of sorts, called "The Joy of Snacks." It is... very Nanny Ogg, and as big of a hit as one would expect a book of filthy jokes and sexual anecdotes (with some recipes in it) to be. But she's credited only as "A Lancre Witch" and is receiving no royalties, both things that Granny has some problems with for different reasons.

Granny Weatherwax has not been finding any creative outlets, a state of affairs which worries Nanny greatly. Nanny remembers the fate of Black Aliss, an extremely powerful witch who went a little off with boredom, and ended up pushed into her own oven by a couple of children. Granny is likely even more powerful than Aliss was, and needs a hobby.

And the Lancre Coven needs a new "Maiden" to fill out their trinity, now that Magrat has all gotten married and become queen and everything (and as Nanny notes, she's presumably neither Maiden, nor Mother, nor "the other one" at present anyway.) So the Witches descend on Ankh-Morpork, to harass a local publisher and catch a little opera. With Greebo along for the ride as well, of course...
posted by Navelgazer (5 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This was actually my first time reading through this one, and as is usually the case with new (to me) Discworld, and always the case with the Witches books, I absolutely loved it. Agnes is a very different kind of character from Magrat. If Magrat was Britta Perry, a super-well-meaning buzzkill in need of validation but possessing a well of inner strength that she doesn't necessarily acknowledge in herself, Agnes has more in common with Annie Edison - naturally very talented, a bit entitled to what she feels owed due to that talent, very in thrall to the "rules" she grew up understanding, but not above breaking her moral code in order to get hers. I haven't read Carpe Jugulum yet either, so I'm psyched to see how she fits in with the coven when it's more clearly the three of them working as a team (or as much as a team as they ever can.)

The whole scene of Granny confronting Nanny about the cookbook was so great I had to listen to it three times in a row, and same thing with Greebo in human form (as Granny's date to the opera!) leaping onto the chandelier. Because he's a cat, you see. Nanny makes a joke later about how she would have expected the chandelier to have come crashing down at some point, but honestly, the extended cat joke was such an unexpected and perfect way to play out that set-up that I'm still amazed by it.

I do wish there had been more of a plan to the mystery besides "murders as distraction from embezzlement" but I liked that the mystery played fair, with the "twist" of there being two ghosts set up well from the start. Also, I'm a theatre-kid in my bones, so I just loved the setting in general (see also: this season of Only Murders in the Building) with all those little spaces in a theatre that patrons don't see and the cast and crew rarely even come across themselves. I've seen the "she has the voice but she "looks" the part" debate play out too many times (thankfully usually landing on casting the performer with the voice) to not have tons of sympathy for Agnes here, and it's a funny note to me that Christine really shows no character growth (that I saw, anyway). She starts out a twit and she remains a twit. Not a villain, exactly, just kind of a shitty person who didn't do enough to even earn a comeuppance.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:46 AM on September 19, 2023 [2 favorites]

I love Esme--one thing I find especially interesting about her is that she is apparently a stunning beauty and does her best to thwart that, as being "a beauty" would not allow her to live her life as she wishes to do so. That she can show up with human Greebo (who is sex-on-toast and arguably the most desirable man in any room he's in) without it being preposterous says a lot.

The first time I read this book I did not care for Agnes much, but subsequent reads has me warming to her further each time.

I'm still trying to figure out what a strawberry wobbler is, but I'm not very worldly.
posted by maxwelton at 1:21 PM on September 19, 2023 [2 favorites]

I'm still trying to figure out what a strawberry wobbler is

I assume it's a dessert that's...tall, and pink, but perhaps not terribly, um, rigid...
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:01 PM on September 19, 2023 [1 favorite]

I'm still trying to figure out what a strawberry wobbler is, but I'm not very worldly.

$20, same as in town.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 2:26 PM on September 20, 2023 [4 favorites]

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