I confess to being a diehard Discworld fan. I have been ever since the 1980s, which was before the earlier books in the series were available in the U.S. Consequently, seven of Discworld books I own are the U.K./Canadian editions. Mort is one of these. The copy I have (pictured here) came from Canada. I was living outside Detroit when I bought it, and Ontario is just across the river. This was fortunate for me because waiting for an American publisher to recognize that there was an audience here for Terry Pratchett’s unique kind of intelligent humor would have been unbearable. Harper Collins has since corrected this terrible oversight, and now all Discworld books are available in the U.S., although with much less cool covers.
I pulled this dusty old gem off my bookshelves a few days ago because the SciFi and Fantasy Bookclub on Goodreads chose it as their selection to read for January 2013. I tried to pace myself, taking three days to read it in order to prolong the enjoyment. I had forgotten how incredibly good it is.
Mort is the story of a gangly young man who becomes Death’s apprentice. If you are familiar with Discworld, you may know Death – tall guy, boney, wears a black cloak, often seen with a scythe and in the company of a white horse named Binky. He is the anthropomorphic personification of the ultimate and final reality – and he likes kittens.
In this story, Death apparently wants an apprentice for two reasons. One is that he has an adopted daughter, Ysabell, whom he thinks could use some company. The backstory for this is vague, but it seems that Death either took pity on her or was simply curious after he ‘collected’ her parents. It’s hard to tell with him sometimes. He has a wonderfully odd way of looking at things.
The other reason to have an apprentice is that he wants a break from the ‘duty.’ This turns out less well than Death might have hoped. On his first solo mission to free souls from their mortal anchors, Mort does something wrong. He saves a young princess from the knife of the assassin fated to kill her, and this disrupts the interrelated web of causality and creates a cosmic paradox. The world thinks she’s dead, but because of Mort’s intervention, she’s not, at least not from a biological perspective. This leads to complications.
Like many of Pratchett’s books, Mort is full of clever wordplay and philosophical humor. For example, at one point Mort says, “I’ve heard about boredom, but I’ve never had a chance to try it.” This cracks me up because it’s dryly funny in the context of the story, but it also philosophically insightful, or at least I found it so. This book is filled with such little Easter eggs, little bits of prose that provoke a smile in passing but can be opened to find even more inside them.
This, in my opinion, is one of the best of Pratchett’s books, the worst of which are some of the most enjoyable stories I’ve ever read. I highly recommend it.