Apparently there's an absolutely huge following for Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, which is easy to do considering it spans 37 novels (according to Wikipedia), so you know... nothing like spreading yourself around to really gain readership.
I tend to shy away from things like this that I haven't found my way to naturally like the Dark Tower series. I've been reading Stephen King books that exist in or at least live next door to the Dark Tower universe since I was 8 or so, and I've got all the background information needed, but trying to catch up (which involves basically reading everything) would take ages, so if I wasn't already where I am with it and presented with the reading list required, I'd never even try to get started. There's just too much.
Given that sort of devotion usually required of a long and involved series, I think it's understandable that I've never tried to jump into Discworld (or Pern for that matter) because I was pretty sure I just wouldn't get it, and frankly don't have time to figure out where to start.
I was mistaken.
Terry Pratchett is ridiculously clever, howlingly funny, and writes his novels in such a way that someone (like, say, myself) who's got no knowledge whatsoever about what Discworld MEANS TO PEOPLE (you know who you are) can enjoy it thoroughly.
Just to keep everyone on the same page, he does explain Discworld, and does so thoroughly enough that I know what he means later in the book when he talks about this or that feature or member of that universe, but also fairly succinctly so that long-time readers I'm sure don't feel the need to skip the first chapter of every book.
That's a rare gift, I think.
Equal Rites is the tale of Esk, a girl from the town of Bad Ass (yes, really) who inherets the powers of a dying wizard as she's being born. The problem... wizards in Discworld are male.
Everyone decides to ignore this and just hope for the best, but as she grows up, Esk starts exhibiting powers and it becomes clear she needs to be taught to control them (at one point she turns her brother into a pig - not that he didn't deserve it).
Granny Weatherwax, the local Witch, hopes Esk can be taught as a Witch herself, that being the acceptable female-oriented magical role in Discworld, but it just can't be done and so it's off to the Unseen University, where all Wizards are taught. Refused entry, they get in the only way they can figure, as servants - the hope being that Esk can observe and learn in a side-lines sort of way.
Esk links up with a Wizard named Simon (whom she had met on the way to the University) and together they manage to get into trouble (there are monsters and other dimensions involved), but in the end come out alright and end up creating an entirely new way of thinking.
The thing I love about Pratchett's story is that although he could easily have taken this on a Quarterback Princess-style route wherein Esk gets into the University on a technicality and PROVES HERSELF EQUAL (you know the drill), instead he takes the tale in a realistic direction (all things considered).
In the real world, without some serious legal action, you wouldn't be accepted into a club that didn't want you without some sort of subterfuge, and maybe you'd prove yourself, or maybe you'd just make a mess of things and have to clean it up, and if you were very lucky maybe once it was cleaned up there would be changes made.
All in all, this was a great book, and I look forward to reading more of his work soon.