By: Terry Pratchett
When inept, but well-intentioned Mort gets only one offer for an apprenticeship—with Death—he can’t refuse. 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 a young princess is scheduled to be unjustly murdered, and he’s strictly forbidden from attempting to meddle with fate.
Mort soon discovers that this perfect job may be the death of his humanity even if being dead isn’t compulsory.
Up until now, Death has been described in the Discworld series as dedicated to his job, sarcastic, a little mean, and professional to a fault. Death prides himself on his personal service, but everyone is terrified of him. No one wants to die, and no one wants to see Death come for them. Mort is the first Discworld novel centered on this beloved anthropomorphic personification and the crushing loneliness he feels because no one ever wants him around or invites him to parties. This book gave me so many feelings because, while Pratchett is always good-natured in his descriptions of difficult topics, Death’s feelings were incredibly relatable. So much so that this book gutted me and I cried at the bittersweet ending. I’m so glad to have the luxury of knowing that there are other books that center on Death because if this was the first and last we get to really see him as a fleshed-out character, I would probably die a little on the inside. No pun intended. I just want him to have a better “true” ending than what I got at the end of this novel.
The best part of Mort is seeing how Death tries to act like a human and Mort tries to act like Death. The trouble really begins when Mort asks for an afternoon off, and Death doesn’t understand why he needs one but allows it anyway. This interaction then inspires the grim reaper to take a vacation of his own…except he doesn’t tell anyone he’s leaving. Mort is then left in charge of reaping the souls of the dead with varying degrees of success. Varying degrees meaning most go well but one goes horribly wrong nearly irreversibly destroying a predetermined future. History doesn’t like being fucked with, but Mort is human. He doesn’t much care for what history wants.
This story is just so perfectly rounded in every way. The narrative fits neatly within three hundred pages, flows well, none of the sections are forced, and there is genuine tension with regards to what will happen at the end. While I also wanted to know the ending of Pratchett’s other three novels, this story was the first where I felt that things probably wouldn’t work out for all the characters. Something was going to go wrong, and I didn’t know who was going to get the worst of it. I felt anxiety where normally I felt mirth because Pratchett seemed to focus on the narrative more than the punchline. Don’t get me wrong, the story is still humorous and there are still jokes, but it felt like there were fewer of them somehow. He took this novel a little more seriously.
I really loved Equal Rites because of its strong message and quirky witches, but Mort is probably my favorite so far because of the sincerity with which it was written. It makes me sentimental and not a lot of books do that. They may shock, bore, enrage, humor, or inspire me but cry? No, few books make me emotional, and of course, now I need to know what happens in the later stories. That was never in doubt though.
I look forward to my next encounter with the grim reaper. After all “goodbye” is such a nasty word. Fortunately, Death prefers au revoir.
One of my favorite quotes:
“History unravels gently, like an old sweater. It has been patched and darned many times, knitted to suit different people, shoved in a box under the sink of censorship to be cut up for the dusters of propaganda, yet it always -eventually- manages to spring back into its old familiar shape. History has a habit of changing the people who think they are changing it. History always has a few tricks up its frayed sleeve. It’s been around a long time.”
Overall rating: 5
P.S. This marks number four of forty-one Discworld novels completed.