- "Pardon me for living, I'm sure."
- NO-ONE GETS PARDONED FOR LIVING. -- (Terry Pratchett, Mort)
Take a moment to imagine with me. Let's imagine that you are the personification of a natural force, say for instance, death. Let us imagine that for untold millenia you have been existing for nothing but bringing an end to the lives of all creatures, from the least significant to the mightiest. Can you imagine even a glimmer of the loneliness that would build up? Neither could Death, right up until he decided to take in a young girl rather than kill her. And when He decides to take on an apprentice to keep her company, the Discworld better watch out.
Until this fourth novel, the character Death plays a minor recurring role, but now its time for him to take center stage. When Rincewind makes his brief appearance in Death's domain in the book The Light Fantastic, he meets Death's adopted daughter Ysabell. This book picks up the story of Ysabell and a young man named Mort. Mort is your typical teen who just doesn't quite seem suited to the family farm, and his father decides that Mort would do well to find a new field of study. When the young boy is unable to find a suitable employer, at the stroke of midnight he encounters a blacked robe figure on a white horse, who offers to teach him to help move souls into the next realm. While dad thinks that being an undertaker would be a great career move for the boy, it soon becomes clear that this is a little more involved. While out learning the job, Mort makes the mistake of saving a girl who was supposed to die, and reality itself moves against him. This certainly puts a damper on Death's vacation plans!
It's the characters that really set this book up. Getting away from the mocking of heroic fantasy, Mr.Pratchett moved onto mocking love stories, by setting up a familiar, if unconventional romance between Mort and Ysabell. Death playing matchmaker for his adopted daughter is just the first step to finding the spark of humanity that lies within Ultimate Reality. The feelings that Mort develops for the girl he saves, mirrored by the feelings that Ysabell feels for Mort, and capped off with the feelings that the princess has with dying, are a familiar triangle to anyone who's ever been a teenager.
The character of Death, forever conflicted between Duty and his curiosity with the human's he services, is the first step down the road that leads to one of the most popular and well developed characters on the Disc. For all those that have hit middle age, and asked the question "Is this all there is?", who have looked at their life and careers and said "I need a change!", the issues that Death faces will ring true.
So, pick this one up and get to know one of my favorite characters. Death makes a few more star appearances including Reaper Man and Hogfather, which continue to explore the themes of death and humanity. And then there's Susan, Death's granddaughter. Turns out some things are inherited through the bones...