Mort (by Terry Pratchett)

Although I have read all the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett, some of them soon after publication, I have not re-read most of them. So I decided to read through the entire series, in order, this year. Not all at once, but interspersed with other authors whose works I am re-reading, and new books I have been given or have acquired second-hand.

So I came to ‘Mort’, the fourth Discworld book. This is one of the few of the series which I had read twice; the last time was in 2009. This is the first book in which Death has any real characterisation, and the one in which he takes on an apprentice. He chooses the aptly named Mort (short for Mortimer) who is tall and gangly, and has no interest at all in following in his father’s footsteps as a horticulturist.

Mort has no idea what to expect, but quickly learns ‘the duty’ - that of cutting the soul of a dying person away from their physical body, so that the soul can go on to whatever future the person believed in. It’s an interesting philosophy, one which is expounded on more in later books. In this one, it’s merely expressed as something factual.

Death’s domain is mostly black, larger on the inside than it would appear. Mort is fed by the elderly Albert, and clothed (albeit in black). He starts by learning to muck out the stables, and getting to know Death’s horse who has the wonderfully inappropriate name of Binky. Mort also comes across Ysabelle, Death’s adopted daughter, who has lived there for many years but has not grown any older.

As Mort becomes more competent, he is allowed to do the ‘Duty’ by himself. Death appears to be having something of a personality crisis; he tries various human pursuits, such as drinking or fishing, with the hope of learning what is meant by the word ‘fun’. And eventually finds a new (albeit temporary) career at which he is an expert…

Meanwhile Mort is becoming more like his master, but retains his human emotions, and is horrified at the thought that an attractive princess might die. So he changes history as it’s being made, so to speak, affecting the local reality and potentially the entire life on the Disc…

Unlike some of Pratchett’s later books, the story is fairly straightforwardly told. We see Mort’s viewpoint primarily, and sometimes Death’s, but there are not dozens of different storylines to follow. There are no chapters, as is the norm with this series, but plenty of section breaks where the action moves elsewhere.

There’s some ironic humour, some quite thought-provoking sections, and some tension towards the end as Mort tries to unravel the disaster he has triggered.

I found it an enjoyable story overall, with a positive ending. It stands alone; Mort is a new character, and while we briefly meet the wizard Rincewind, who featured heavily in ‘The Colour of Magic’ and ‘The Light Fantastic’, it wouldn’t matter at all if someone read this book with no idea who he was. I didn’t notice any overlap at all with characters from the third book, ‘Equal Rites’, although perhaps some of the other wizards mentioned (in passing) in this book also featured in that.

Recommended to anyone, adults or teenagers who like this style of satirical fantasy. There are innuendos scattered throughout the book, but if a younger child read this, I should think they would mostly go over their heads.

Review copyright 2019 Sue's Book Reviews

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