is the fourth of the Discworld novels. In many ways, however, it may be
the best place to begin the series, reading a few more and then later
going back and filling in The
Light Fantastic and Equal
"Mort" is the first of the "Death" sub-series within the larger
Discworld series as a whole (which includes The
Reaper Man, Soul
Music and Hogfather).
The Death of the
Discworld is an interesting character -- and he is very much a
*character*, rather than an event or a Presence, though he is those,
too. Death, after eons of being basically, well, Death, has decided he
wants to understand the Human Condition.
In this volume, we are introduced to young Mort, a farmer lad who just
isn't suited for farming. Or any other trade anyone can think of. So
his father takes him to the Hiring Fair in another town, rather in the
manner of a man taking a horse that's only lame if you try to ride it
to a Fair where no-one has ever seen it or him. But no-one seems
willing to take on Mort, even so. Until the stroke of midnight, when a
black-cloaked figure on a big white horse rides up...
And so Mort is apprenticed to Death.
He learns to take The Duty, as Death refers to riding out personally as
a courtesy to the more important decedents (witches and wizards know in
advance when they will die and they and priests expect a personal visit
from Death as a professional courtesy, so to speak; Death also appears
personally to Kings and Emperors and such). Eventually, Death trusts
Mort to do The Duty on his own for a couple of days while Death takes a
brief holiday to learn more about humanity.
Which explains why, when a rather nasty Duke attempts to asassinate his
beautiful young cousin, before she can take the throne, Mort tries to
change things and takes the Duke, not the Princess.
But history has inertia and elasticity, and soon the imbalance between
What Is Supposed To Be and What Actually Is begins to threaten reality.
And Death is off on holiday and things Keep On Getting Worse.
This is the volume where Pratchett really begins to hit his stride and
bring the Discworld to life -- an actual (albeit Strange) place with
real (albeit extreme) characters whose problems are often recogniseable
variations on our own. He begins to truly master the dry, sometimes
sardonic, tone of narration that makes the goings-on so much more
funny... and sometimes, unexpectedly, much more sad and
throat-catching, as when Death is drawn to a rain barrel and collects
the souls of several kittens drowned in a sack by someone, he remarks THERE ARE TIMES, YOU KNOW,
WHEN I GET VERY TIRED.
Or, after Mort tries (the first time) to change who's supposed to die,
Death isn't angry -- Mort, asks if Death is going to send him home.
Death replies BECAUSE
YOU SHOWED COMPASSION? NO. I MIGHT
HAVE DONE IF YOU HAD SHOWED PLEASURE. BUT
YOU MUST LEARN THE COMPASSION PROPER TO YOUR TRADE -- A SHARP EDGE.
The little touches -- the telling little bits of description not
directly involved in the storyline as such but commenting or pointing
out, almost as a tour-guide might, really begin to show up here, Unseen
University begins to resemble the institution as portrayed in later
books, and Pratchett begins explaining more of the physics, meta- and
otherwise, of the Discworld.
The perfect introduction to the Discworld -- then, in my opinion, one
should temporarily skip over the next three (Sourcery,
Sisters and Pyramids) to read Guards!
Guards!, the first of the "Guards" subseries,
then hop back to Wyrd Sisters,
which plays merry havoc with
Shakespeare (particularly The Scottish Play) for a proper introduction
to the "Witches" subseries...
After that, you're on your own.
But they're all rousing good fun and will, at least once per volume,
make you think a bit, too...