Upon reading Mort, the fourth of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, I felt that the series had reached a new height. I’d enjoyed the three books which came before it, but this one felt like it had a little more heart to it and it’s storyline was certainly something rather unique.
All of the other books had featured appearances of Death to some extent or another. I always enjoyed his appearances (especially when his adopted daughter Ysabell was introduced) so I was delighted that Death was right at the heart of this novel. The story this time is that Death has decided to take on an apprentice and the titular Mort is that apprentice.
Something I especially enjoyed about this book is the way in which it tried to rationalise the way a living embodiment of Death would actually work. We learn a little about his systems and the domain in which he lives. We also learn more about him as a person and the toll that it would take on somebody if their entire identity was the very thing which most people fear the most. He’s something of a tragic figure… but in an oddly down to Earth sort of way which makes him quite relatable.
Though I do think that he is somewhat overshadowed by Death, I did rather like Mort as well. At first it felt like he was a little bit of a joke – a simpleminded fool who had found himself in a situation he couldn’t comprehend. As it went on, he was revealed to be a character with a little more depth than I expected. I have to admit, that he did start to feel like a little bit of a generic protagonist, but I did appreciate the journey that his character went on. His relationship with Ysabell was certainly an interesting one as well.
While it is the fourth book in the series, you could probably start with this one, if you wanted. Death and Ysabell have both appeared before, but you’re introduced to them through Mort as he meets them for the first time, so you can learn about them at the same pace as he does. Rincewind and the Unseen University also show up, but again, they are used in such a way that you’ll be fine if you have no foreknowledge.
The story is a fascinating one which deals with fate, the path of time, Death’s role in the universe and more. What would happen if Death refused to take somebody who was destined to die? Well, read this and you’ll find out. It’s a pretty profound book a lot of the time, with lots of very clever things to say. That’s all mixed in with a lot of very ‘ordinary’ humour and it might sound like that would be jarring, but it works beautifully. I don’t use ‘ordinary’ in a derogatory way either, just in the sense that the comedy helps the book feel grounded in reality without flying too far off into the realms of philosophic reflection.
If you think the idea of Death taking an apprentice sounds too silly, think again. It has a sense of humour, but this novel is far from being too silly. It’s really beautifully written is so different from anything else I’ve ever read. I strongly recommend it.