Opera, witches, werewolves, trolls etc are an unlikely mix, but are brewed up and served beautifully in Terry Pratchett's Maskerade, which was brought home from my son's school library and avidly lapped up. (It was published in 1995)

Pratchett isn't everyone's cup of tea - you have to share his anarchic and pythonesque (verging on the batty) sense of humour, and enjoy, or at least put up with, the continual spoofing of by-now-conventional fantasy themes. It helps if you have got to know the standard Discworld characters: the housewife-and-mother-and-witch Granny Ogg, Death (who ALWAYS SPEAKS IN UPPER CASE), etc. If you're generally in sync with all this, he's side-splittingly funny. His take on opera is up to his usual gloriously irreverent standards, and while mostly rather loving, can be alarmingly near the bone. The subjects lampooned range from the (obvious) characters taking too long to die, the overfed tenor Enrico (real name Henry Slugg), the underfed ballerinas, the new owner of the opera house, to whom it has to be explained that "opera doesn't make money, opera is something you put money into", and the description of the Ring of the Nibelungingung (sic), something along the lines of "three days of the gods shouting at each other and forty minutes of memorable tunes". And Pratchett's one-liners come thick and fast To give you a flavour: "The singers all loathe the sight of one another, the chorus despises the singers, they both hate the orchestra, and everyone fears the conductor; the staff on one prompt side won't talk to the staff on the opposite prompt side, the dancers are all crazed from hunger in any case..." "After you'd known Christine for any length of time, you found yourself fighting a desire to look into her ear to see if you could spot daylight coming the other way."

The whole book is also a semi-continuous spoof of the Phantom of the Opera, complete with a dapper Ghost in a white mask and everyone continually looking up nervously at the enormous chandelier in the auditorium.

A treat for any opera lovers, particularly so if you're already a Pratchett fan...

David 5th July 2008