Fantasy Review: ‘Mort’ by Terry Pratchett

Part 4 of The Compete Discworld Reread

“Obviously we shouldn’t get married, if only for the sake of the children.”
Ysabell to Mort, after a friendly round of insults.

Mort is a bit of a dreamer, which isn’t the best thing for a farmer’s son to be.  Knowing that something different is needed for his son, good ol’ dad takes Mort to town and tries to line up an apprenticeship up for him.  While most of the professions go after the other boys in town, it turns out that Death has an opening.  The actual Death, he who escorts souls after death, wears the black robe, and TALKS LIKE THIS.

At the start of the internship Mort learns several things.  One is Death doesn’t have to be present at every death, only a few to keep the world running right.  A second is that he uses a live horse, because the skeliton of a horse is impractical.  But the strangest of all is that Death lives with an elderly butler and has a daughter named Ysabell.

After the intro the story basically splits into two major story lines.  The main line is Mort, who is given complete control of Death’s duties after a while, and mucks it up almost immediately by interfering with what was supposed to happen, then mucks it up a bit more by trying to stop the world from correcting his mistake.  The secondary line follows Death himself, as he uses his new free time to try to understand humanity a little better, usually played for laughs as we watch the reaper man go fishing, get drunk, and get a job.

As most of the “Death finding himself” subplot is played strait for laughs, this is understandable the funniest book in the series so far.  Despite that Pratchett once again weaves a very smart and quick paced plot in Mort’s main storyline.  The world is trying to correct itself, Mort is growing more comfortable in his job as Death, and Ysabell proves to be more than a silly girl.  Oh, and there is a wizard and a princess that figure into the story as well.

Tropes attacked by Pratchett this time around are almost any about the personification of Death, the importance of love at first site, and the meekness of butlers.

If a reader started the series with Equal Rites they may find themselves disappointed by the lack of depth this book has comparably.  Specifically Deaths  side journey could be seen as some as nothing but humorous filler, as it adds little to the overall plot.    Readers who have started at the beginning may note that Death has changed dramatically from his first appearance without much explanation.  A forgiving reader would say there could be a time difference, but the Death who killed in anger during ‘The Color of Magic’ doesn’t really jive with a Death who adopts a young girl and cares for her.

But for fans this book joins ‘Equal Rites’ as an early highlight.  While not as strong as that outing, I am giving it the same score based on the strength of the laughs.

4 stars

*Possible Spoilers Below*

Ok, so this was one of the books I really wondered about when I started this re-read.  I originally didn’t enjoy it, and as far as I know this is the first time I have reread it.  Looking back, I am not sure why I had a problem with it.  I had a memory of Ysabell being annoying, but she wasn’t.  She was trapped in her circumstances but quite resourceful and a much better character than I remember.  As stated above, it was surely the funniest book of the series so far, with Pratchett’s famous footnotes really making a larger appearance for the first time(before only one or two showed per book).  The interactions between Mort and Ysabell were great, and were almost eclipsed by the interactions between the princess and the wizard.

Both the Princess Kelirehenna and Ysabell were strong characters.  When Ysabell reveals that she has the knowledge Mort needs, she is asked if she can help.  She lets them know that in this case, no, they can help her.  When the Princess learns she is at the center of a flaw in the world, she is the one who looks for solutions to the problem.

Pratchett obviously loved the themes he started her, as this is the first of several books involving Death doing some soul searching.  As well, this is the first book in which gods being powered by belief is shown, which will of course be very important in small gods.

Rincewind makes a small appearance, as does the Librarian(and I was wrong about Rincewind always being in mortal danger at the end of books, he is safe at the end of this one as well).  The rest of the university staff still hasn’t been sorted out yet though, in ‘Mort’ the bursar is one of the most rational wizards.

I am racking my brain to figure out why I disliked this book the first time around, but finding nothing.  Great book, and Pratchett is really starting to bring Discworld to life here.

First appearance of  Albert and Blinkie.  But not of Ysabell, who actually showed in The Light Fantastic first.

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