Terry Pratchett,
(Victor Gollancz, 1995; HarperPrism, 1998)

Ahahahahaha! Ahahahaha! Aahahaha!

Yrs sincerely
The Opera Ghost

'What sort of person,' said Salzella patiently, 'sits down and writes a maniacal laugh? And all those exclamation marks, you notice? Five? A sure sign of someone who wears his underpants on his head. Opera can do that to a man.'

What happens when you cross Terry Pratchett with Gaston Leroux? You get more Terry Pratchett, of course. And in Maskerade, his slanted perspective on the famous Phantom of the Opera tale, you get Pratchett at his most hilarious yet.

There is, of course, a "ghost" in the Opera House in old Ankh-Morpork. Masked and elusive, he haunts the theater, leaving dead flowers for his favorite performers, leaving strange notes for the owners and managers and, of course, slaughtering anyone who gets in his way ... or just happens to be somewhere in the vicinity when he's in that kind of mood.

Our old friend Death, while not a starring figure in this book, is quite a regular visitor to the opera house these days. He also pays a touching visit to a cow shed, but that's a different part of the story.

Agnes Nitt is the hefty young girl from the boonies who has the voice but not the figure to be a leading lady. Still, she has a great deal of sense, a keen gift for vocal acrobatics and a bit of innate witchery on her side. She also has the nom de plume of Perdita X Dream, but we can forgive her that slight error in judgment.

Her friend Christine has the body of a stage goddess, the voice of an electric saw chewing through sheet metal and the brains of a small dead hamster. She also has a destiny -- or, rather, she did until she took a fright one night and swapped rooms with Agnes.

Seldom Bucket is the opera's new owner, who was looking for a quite business to retire into after making his fortune in the dairy industry. He made a mistake, however. ("Opera happens because a large number of things amazingly fail to go wrong," music director Salzella patiently explains to him one evening. "It works because of hatred and love and nerves. All the time. This isn't cheese. This is opera.")

And then there's the witches, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, a coven missing its third member (the maiden) and convinced that Agnes is the proper one. So they travel to Ankh-Morpork to fetch her, and to see a man about the profits on a book about naughty culinary treats while they're in the neighborhood.

Maskerade is a great addition to the Discworld tradition. The humor is tempered with a good, old-fashioned mystery -- you'll think you know who the ghost, but then you'll realize you're wrong, and then you'll start to wonder....

A working knowledge of the Discworld mythology and its host of recurring characters is useful but not necessary to read Maskerade. Whatever information refers back to previous books will be explained along the way, if it's necessary to the plot. So don't hesitate to pick this one up -- but be prepared to learn more than you ever wanted to know about opera.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

Buy Maskerade from Amazon.com.