Death comes to us all. When he came to Mort, he offered him a job.
Henceforth, Death is no longer going to be the end, merely the means to an end. It’s an offer Mort can’t refuse. As Death’s apprentice, he’ll have free board, use of the company horse – and being dead isn’t compulsory. It’s a dream job – until he discovers that it can be a killer on his love life…
Death as a character in the Discworld series is someone who has always grabbed my attention. This dry, knowledgeable, humorously frank, and surprisingly compassionate grim reaper hung out at the fringes of the first three books, having brief yet memorable appearances. Mort is the first novel among a number that focuses specifically on Death: his concerns, his job, and his realm. This was a book I was dying to reach, held back only by my desire to read Terry Pratchett’s massive series in order.
Mort feels like a significant marker on the roadmap of this series. Obviously, there are numerous books that I’ve yet to read that I assume demonstrate Pratchett’s refinement of this world even further. In the case of this novel, however, there was a noticeable shift. The focus on lampooning Fantasy genre conventions has been progressively declining as I’ve been going through the books and in Mort this change is the most apparent. This was the first book that really felt like it set out to tell a compelling story that was simultaneously funny.
Mort, the title character, seemed at first like another hapless protagonist, but really comes into his own from where he starts at the beginning of the story. His actions acting in Death’s stead are what put reality in jeopardy, but it’s not the result of bumbling competence, rather an impulsive reaction from a young man — a teenager, really — with far too great responsibility thrust upon him than he can be expected to handle. They’re foolish choices, but I understood and sympathized with why he was making them. He also applied himself to the job well, learning a lot about how Death works in the world and passing that knowledge on to the reader along the way. He’s still a bit of a fool by the end, but I had a good sense of how much he’d grown.
Despite the focus being more on Death’s apprentice rather than the anthropomorphic personification himself, Mort’s experiences in the role of Death, which in a way starts to make him Death, teaches us a lot about him as a character. With all his power, immortality, great wisdom, and nearly endless job security, he’s unhappy — which is quite a predicament for a being supposedly incapable of emotion. As Mort inhabits the role more and more it becomes plain to see how it could take such a toll. He’s a deeply sympathetic being, especially considering his problems are deeply existential.
Mort is a book I highly recommend. If reading the entire Discworld series is too daunting, and I don’t blame you, one could really start anywhere. This being the first Death focused book you could easily start here if you wanted. It was one of my favourite books I read last year and I expect great things from Pratchett’s books moving forward.