After reading Hogfather and Good Omens for CBR10, (and thank you, Malin, for gifting them to me way back when) I meant to read more Pratchett. Those two books were enormously entertaining reads and Pratchett has written dozens of novels. The problem is knowing where to begin, since a number of the them form their own series within the Discworld. I consulted one of the many tables out there called “How to Read Pratchett” and opted to begin with the Death novels, the first of which is Mort. Death was a star character of Hogfather, the first Pratchett novel I read, and I loved Death as a character, so that explains that. It was either going to be Mort or Guards, Guards, which I know is beloved by many. I will get to that series eventually.
Mort is a human teenager with poor prospects. He’s a well meaning kid but all elbows and knees, bumbling about and directionless in life. He’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, and he can’t even scare birds out of his path. When his dad takes him to town in the hopes of getting him apprenticed to someone (anyone!), they end up at the market all day with no takers until midnight when a cloaked stranger, Death himself, appears and takes Mort to be his apprentice. This seems strange to the members of Death’s household, i.e., his servant Albert and teenaged daughter Ysabell. Why would Death need an apprentice when he will never retire? He’s ageless and eternal. Nonetheless, Death takes Mort with him to wield the scythe and free souls from bodies when their time has run out of their hourglass. Death has hourglasses for everyone, and in his library are books being written in real time that are biographies of each person’s life.
Things get interesting when Mort goes out for the first time on his own to do Death’s work. The first two jobs go pretty much as planned but the third involves a young princess named Keli whom Mort has seen before. He sort of has a crush on her and does not want her to die, and so he does something he shouldn’t, which then leads to a rift in reality. Meanwhile, Death goes out on his own without telling Albert or Ysabell where he is going or why. It is absolutely hilarious, as Death decides he wants to experience “happiness”. His ways of pursuing it were the funniest parts of the book for me. Mort wants to tell Death what he has done but can’t, and so he tries to fix the problem on his own. Or rather not completely on his own but with help from Ysabell, Albert, Keli and a young, not-too-proficient wizard named Cutwell.
This was a fun book to read even though I didn’t feel like there was the same kind of pointed powerful message evident in Hogfather or Good Omens. Death and Albert are delightful, and the humor on nearly every page, practically in every sentence, is most welcome right now. It was especially needed during this past week when COVID numbers are spiking where I live, the kids’ remote schooling resumed, and there was nearly a successful coup in Washington, DC. Death ain’t so bad and he even cheered me up a bit. I’ll continue to ride the Pratchett roller coaster in 2021.