Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is one of the grand old ladies of fantasy fiction at this point. Pratchett’s prolific output and consistent hilarity have earned him scads of readers. However, until this year, I had never read any Discworld books, and the only book of his I had read was Good Omens, which was co-written with Neil Gaiman. I decided to read this book first out of the entire series based on the Gateway to Geekery recommendation made by The AV Club, one of my favourite culture/media sites.
About the book: Death, the Reaper of Souls, needs an apprentice and decides on Mort, a gangly, naive teenager from the hinterlands of the Disc. Wearying of living without truly understanding life, Death goes on an extended holiday and leaves Mort in charge. Mort, of course, has had only the most rudimentary of training, and unleashes a potentially catastrophic chain of events when he decides to thwart fate and prevent the assassination of a comely princess. As is so often the case with Pratchett, hilarity ensues…
What I liked: Pratchett’s known for his humour, and this book did not disappoint. It introduced me to Discworld with little discomfort, and I felt comfortable amidst the snarky footnotes, anthropomorphic personifications, and judicious small caps. The writing flowed easily, and although the lack of chapter breaks was jarring, I adjusted to it quickly. Also, Death is a wonderful character – it’s amazing how he’s imbued with so much personality despite his nature as a cold, implacable reality that we all must face. The asides and worldbuilding interspersed throughout the novel were deftly done, and certain scenes, like Mort’s solo attempt to fulfill Death’s duties with an understanding witch, were surprisingly poignant.
What I disliked: The lead-up to the ending of the book was rushed and didn’t match the tone of the text that preceded it. Throughout the book, Pratchett clearly explained how Mort’s actions violated the natural order, but the sword-and-scythe fight seemed like a really tacked-on way to resolve this dispute. No other sequence in the book has a similar level of physical action in it, and it seemed out of character for both Death and Mort to take part. In addition, the final revelation that Mort and Ysabell got hitched – and got a new duchy in Sto Helit in the bargain – seemed awfully neat and tidy.
The verdict: Mort was fun, and I look forward to reading other books in the Discworld series to get a sense of how the various puzzle pieces fit together. My fiancé is a big fan of the Night Watch books, and has at least a few ready to borrow. However, I am worried that the other books in the series will have the same ending/denouement problems that this one did. I remain cautiously optimistic about the series so far.
Up next: The Terror, by Dan Simmons