Welcome back to Terry Tuesday! This is the fourth book of Discworld and one where I feel things start to come together a little bit more, it’s often used as a starting point to get into the series so if you like the sound of it, pick it up!
This starts the Death series, and he’s one of my favorite characters from all of Discworld, he has a dry and unintentional sense of humor that gets me to smile every time. Most of my favorite scenes from the previous novels are of Death and his interactions with Rincewind.
Death needs a new apprentice, and it just so happens that Mort is looking to become an apprentice. After his father decided that his son was too inept to help around the family business, Mort has been standing at the market square during a job fair and is left standing alone at midnight. His dad is ready to call it a day and take him back home when a dark figure shows up riding a white horse. This, of course, turns out to be Death and his noble steed, Binky. After a surreal introduction and a proposal for an apprenticeship, Mort reluctantly rides off with Death to become his new apprentice, with his father being none the wiser, believing his son is off to be an undertaker of the more common variety.
Death takes Mort to his private home that lies outside of reality, a place where time has no meaning – but there are ways to keep occupied. There’s a library stocked with books of everyone’s life story, and a room full of hourglasses with peoples lives trickling away one grain at a time – and a black garden with black plants, black fruits and black vegetables. There’s also Ysabell, Death’s adopted daughter and the manservant, Albert.
Mort soon is introduced to the ways of what it means to be Death. It’s not Death that kills people, it’s merely his job to usher them into the next step, whatever that is, even Death isn’t sure since he’s never died. At first, Mort has problems acclimating to his new profession, he wants to try and help those that are about to die, he attempted to yell out a warning to a soon-to-be-dead King, the King ends up dead anyway. Gradually he becomes a bit better at it, and when it was time to do his first Reaping on his own, Mort managed to take a witch’s soul without too many issues. Except for the fact she didn’t want to leave and wanted to stick around a bit as a ghost.
And then Mort really messes things up, he lets a girl go instead of taking her soul. He disrupted the assassination of a 15 year old princess, Keli. It’s said that disrupting Fate can send ripples or tears through the fabric of spacetime, and now “history is flapping around all loose” and it’s all Mort’s fault.
Mort is a kid just trying to do his best, he’s described as being ‘made of knees’, bright red hair, and fairly awkward – he’s not what you would expect Death’s apprentice to look like. He has a good heart and when he makes mistakes you know why he made them, it’s easy to relate to his screw-ups. He gets very bent out of shape no one respects him enough to call him Mort, and instead, people call him “boy”, he’s constantly muttering his own name under his breath each time someone calls him by a nickname. He’s stuck in Death’s castle with Ysabell, who has been 16 for the last 35 years thanks to Death’s manor being out of spacetime. She’s angry and bitter and tries to make life hell for Mort for the first half of the book, but later on, they start to bond.
Death is a self-professed anthropomorphic personification and is the result of the cumulative thoughts and concepts of death by the people residing on the Discworld. He’s fascinated by humanity and spends a lot of time with them despite not ‘feeling’ anything. As a walking skeleton, he doesn’t have ‘glands’ you see, and those are required for feeling things. The one exception would be cats, he’s very fond of cats and the few times I see this character angry is when he came across a sack full of drowned kittens, he makes a speech about seeing humanity at its worst in their line of work and then gently releases their souls. Death’s fascination with humanity provokes many quote-worthy scenes, some philosophical and deep, and others just hilarious. It’s not a wonder why this character is so popular.
The writing continues to improve, and I got a few audible chuckles out of this one, so book 4 would be my first out loud laughter. I was also smiling and feeling the warm and fuzzies much more often in this book than the ones that came before it. I remember laughing hysterically the first time I read this, this is one of those I’ve read many, many times and when I was in high school this was my favorite out at the time.
Overall, again this is an improvement and I liked this one much more than the ones that came before it. This is where I usually tell people to start if they want to start early in the series. It’s not my favorite Death book anymore, right now that’s Reaper Man – but that’s coming from a new perspective where I work with the elderly and dying. What I love about this series is that as I get older I drop old favorites and pick up new ones as I gain different life experiences, it’s a series you can grow with and get something new out of at different stages in life.
“It would seem that you have no useful skill or talent whatsoever,” he said. “Have you thought of going into teaching?”
“He’d been wrong, there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and it was a flamethrower.”
“He was determined to discover the underlying logic behind the universe.
Which was going to be hard, because there wasn’t one.”
- comic fantasy/satire
- Death/non human POV
- multi pov
- high fantasy
- lots of fantasy tropes
- shorter books
- coming of age
- Plot: 12/15
- Characters: 12/15
- World Building: 13/15
- Writing: 13/15
- Pacing: 12/15
- Originality: 13.5/15
- Personal Enjoyment: 8.25/10
Final Score: 83.75/100