Thursday, May 19, 2016

Review of Mort by Terry Pratchett

Roll back to 1987, and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld is but a blip on the reading world’s radar. With only a duology (The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic) and a stand-alone novel (EqualRites) published, Pratchett was just beginning to feel out the breadth of ideas at his fingertips, the vast numbers of Discworld readers not yet onboard, let alone cognizant of the behemoth moving on the horizon. Electing to take the series in yet another new direction for its fourth novel, Mort, Pratchett reverted to a side character from the previous novels and set him center stage. And full of ennui.

DEATH is feeling anxiety. After thousands and thousands of years of collecting the dead for the afterlife, a certain languor for existence has settled in. He’s grown weary of his trade and wishes to have an apprentice so he may explore other aspects of… existence. Descending upon a trader’s market late one evening, he happens upon the unwitting Mortimer. Mort a phlegmatic young man, he soon enough finds drama enough working alongside DEATH, attending the final moments of the Disc’s inhabitants’ lives. While unable to stop himself from preventing a regicide one evening, Mort soon after learns the meaning of fate, and is eventually allowed to go out on his own to usher mortals into the great beyond. It’s when the hourglass of the daughter of the assassinated king is running low, however, that Mort’s true beliefs are tested.

Casting the fated farmboy in a new light (er, shadow?), Mort’s adventures in the employ of DEATH are regal, but only by association. Like Eskarina in Equal Rites, Mort, after being separated from his youth and the familiarity of home and family, has a lot of figuring out to do with this thing called life. Mistakes are made, decisions necessary, and personal problems—problems perhaps with no clear answer—need to be sorted out.

Pratchett’s plotting from the first to last page spot on, the situations Mort gets caught up in and needs to mitigate facilitate all of the fine humor and punnery the author is known for, as well as provide a slate upon which he can make points regarding existence and mortality. There’s no question life and death are in-depth material, the commentary, however, is the opposite of didactic. Multiple spoons stir what should be dark subject matter into something lighter yet tasty.

Showcasing nearly everything that makes Pratchett, Pratchett, Mort packs a lot of perennial wisdom, outright humor, and great storytelling in a small number of pages. Another corner of the Disc carved out and given color and shape, the fourth novel makes for one of the best jumping off points into Discworld if you haven’t already discovered for yourself the phenomenon.

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