Place in series: # 4 in The Discworld Series, # 1 in The Death Collection
Author: Terry Pratchett
Concerning spoilers: The Discworld series is made-up of forty-one books that together form a universe but can be read as standalone novels. I’m reading them in the order they were published. There will be no spoilers for this particular book. However, minor spoilers for previous novels in the series can occur.
For more information about The Discworld Series, audiobook narrators, editions, reading order, and previous reviews. You can find my introductory post to The Discworld Series HERE.
It is known as the Discworld. It is a flat planet, supported on the backs of four elephants, who in turn stand on the back of the great turtle A’Tuin as it swims majestically through space. And it is quite possibly the funniest place in all of creation…Death comes to us all. When he came to Mort, he offered him a job. After being assured that being dead was not compulsory, Mort accepted. However, he soon found that romantic longings did not mix easily with the responsibilities of being Death’s apprentice.
There are over eleven-hundred named characters in the Discworld universe, but only one DEATH (that’s technically not true, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves). DEATH, WHO SPEAKS ONLY IN CAPITAL LETTERS, is an anthropomorphic personification who’s been around for as long as there have been mortals on the Discworld. Thus, he’s older than the gods (who came into existence by the belief) and almost all other beings in the universe. He appears in the traditional form of the Grim Reaper, loves cats and rides a white horse called Binky- IT’S A NICE NAME.
As one of the more popular characters, he has his own subseries, The Death Collection, and is famous for having a cameo in every other Discworld novel (except one).
Mort is the first stand-alone novel in the Death collection, but if you read in publishing order, you’ve already met DEATH by now. I’ve probably said it before, but I’ll repeat it; it’s entirely possible to read these novels out of order. However, you’ll get so much more out of the easter eggs, cameos and references to other novels that become more and more numerous as the series progresses, if you don’t.
Mort himself is a rather unimpressive teenager who at the beginning of the book finds himself overlooked and unchosen as an apprentice by every trade and craftsman in his village. Enter DEATH.
The thing that makes me love DEATH so much is that even though he is a walking skeleton and in theory the opposite of human, he is the most humane character of them all. DEATH doesn’t need help, but he offers poor Mort the role of apprentice DEATH out of something that can only be described as empathy.
Mort moves in with DEATH, his manservant Albert and DEATH’S adoptive teenage daughter Ysabell. Yes, DEATH has a daughter, and she’s human.
DEATH introduced Mort to the delicate craft of soul collecting. Soon he’s given the responsibility of appearing in DEATH’s place during a collection. He’s warned that every death is predetermined and provided clear instructions not to interfere.
Meanwhile, DEATH is experiencing somewhat of an identity crisis and a yearning to experience what it means to be human.
In a 2004 interview, Terry Pratchett said that in his early work the plot had been there to support the jokes, while Mort was the first of his books where the plot felt integral. I agree.
While the three previous books have been quirky and humorous, Mort feels much more like a complete story where the plot has a point and the characters a clear arch. It’s not a plot that will surprise you, I think most people can figure out that sending a teenage boy to do DEATHS job will end in disaster, but it’s amusing.
The humor in the series is also evolving. It less focused on delivering puns and punchlines, the humor is now second to the plot. It’s still an integral part of Pratchett’s storytelling, but it’s now a part of the story, not the point of it.
For me though, DEATHS story arch in the book is the best part. Watching him try to understand and experience what it means to be human in a world he doesn’t have a place in is both hilarious and touching at the same time. DEATH really is the most endearing character.
Mort is the best Discworld book so far in the series. By now most of Pratchett’s early rough edges as a writer has been smoothed out and you can tell there is a structure, and a well-developed idea behind the story.
The characters, although still very much eccentric Discworld characters, now serve a purpose that isn’t just comic relief
If you’re hesitant to take on the entire series The Death Collection is a good place getting acquainted with the Discworld. DEATH is one of the best characters in the series and, somewhat unexpectedly, the most human of them all.
My Rating: 6/10
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