Well, this review is indescribably late. My best explanation is that life happened and that you’re probably not interested in the boring details. You’re here for my reviews, so let’s get back on them. Next Discworld installment.
In this Discworld installment, Death comes to Mort with an offer he can’t refuse – especially since being, well, dead isn’t compulsory. As Death’s apprentice, he’ll have free board and lodging, use of the company horse, and he won’t need time off for family funerals. The position is everything Mort thought he’d ever wanted, until he discovers that this perfect job can be a killer on his love life.
Death in the Limelight
Death, the Grim Reaper, whatever you may call him, has been present in every Discworld story that I’ve read thus far. While he typically gets about one or two scenes in each book, but he steals the show in every single one. This book marks the first time that Death has been the center of attention throughout the entire book. In Discworld, Death is not a malicious evil, but rather a guy just doing his job. However, he also has a lot of pride in his job and does his best at it. These aspects make him a lot more relatable than other versions of the force of nature.
I’ve always had a slight interest in the world building and mechanics of fantasy settings, so I was happy to see just how Death goes about his job. He’s not present for every single person’s death, just when the event is important (i.e. natural disasters, massacres, etc.) or with people who think they’re important. Such individuals are usually aristocrats, monarchs, other politicians, and wizards and witches. I like to think he personally collects aristocrats and monarchs just to prevent them from throwing temper tantrums. “I am, uh, was a king, dammit! I deserve to have my soul collected by Death itself!” We actually get to see one such tantrum when a nobleman is collected by Mort instead of Death.
Death Has an Apprentice
This book has one of those premises that could either be extremely entertaining or just fall flat on its face. Since it was put in the hands of Terry Pratchett, we fortunately have the former. It’s never outright explained why Death wants an apprentice, but it is implied that he wants to retire and hand over the responsibility of being a force of nature to someone else.
Mort isn’t the type of character that initially comes to mind when you hear the phrase “Death’s apprentice”. I’d normally expect such a character to have a goth vibe to them constantly being dark and gloomy. Another expectation is that the potential replacement have some kind of preexisting connection with death: nearly dying, everyone close to him or significant in his life dies, etc. Mort doesn’t meet any of those expectations, and I love Pratchett for it. Instead, Mort is simply the son of a farmer. Mort wasn’t all that good at farming though, so he tried being an apprentice elsewhere instead. This point in his life is when Death enters the picture.
Mort’s behavior also subverted my expectations. Typically a normal human turned into the embodiment of death has one of two reactions. The first is that they go mad with power striking down anyone that makes them even slightly angry. The second is that they resist the job with everything they have genuinely believing that the world would be better if no one ever died. Mort however does neither. He doesn’t’ revel in the killing like a psychopath. Death himself said that if Mort did that, then the boy would be fired and Death would find someone else. At the same time, Mort takes the time to be compassionate towards the souls that he collects. There was a tender scene where Mort sits down with an old woman while they wait for her hourglass to run out. It’s a touching scene that really made me like Mort both as a character and as a potential Death.
Death’s daughter, Ysabell, made her first appearance back in the first Discworld book, The Colour of Magic. In that book, her personality is extremely different from what’s seen in this book. Ysabell was originally extremely lonely and tried to sever the life lines of two people that accidently wondered into Death’s house just so that she would have someone to talk to. In this book however, she’s comes across like a normal teenager: moody, indecisive, insufferable, but not perpetually psychotic. I guess this change in personality could be explained in one Discworld’s later books, but I haven’t encountered one. If I read between the lines, I could say that since time is weird in Death’s domain it’s possible the two events were decades apart from Ysabell’s perspective and thus giving her the chance to change as a person. However that’s more of a theory that I’ve developed rather than an real explanation provided by Pratchett.
While this is the fourth Discworld book I’ve reviewed, I’ve actually read several more books from the setting. At this point, I don’t think it’s possible for me to find a Discworld book that I dislike.