This isn't a book about DEATH. This is a book about Mort, who we meet at the beginning, before he becomes DEATH's apprentice. And unfortunately for DEATH's well-laid plans, we can see this being trouble pretty much from the beginning -- because when you put an adolescent male with many raging hormones, even one as intelligent as Mort, in a position that requires him to be non-judgemental and wise, you are going to have problems. When you put Mort on DEATH's horse Binky and give him a scythe, he is going to destroy the world. This is a book about Mort racing against reality, in an effort to not destroy the world and to get the girl.
As with Pratchett's other books I've read, there are deeper thoughts here. There are musings on the nature of death and the afterlife and adolescent boys; on reality, fate, love, and justice. There are no answers, just ideas and a lot of poking fun. I really enjoyed this installment in the Discworld books, which is one of two that I had read before reading The Wee Free Men and deciding that I was a Pratchett fan for life. Which I think is how I am trying to say that this book is good, but it wasn't a deal-maker for me. It was good enough to convince me that I might like more Pratchett if I tried it, but not good enough to convince me that I needed to read everything he had written.
That said, it's still full of gems of description and characterization. This is Mort:
It was also acutely embarrassing to Mort's family that the youngest son was not at all serious and had about the same talent for horticulture that you would find in a dead starfish. It wasn't that he was unhelpful, but he had the kind of vague, cheerful helpfulness that serious men soon learn to dread. There was something infectious, possibly even fatal, about it. He was tall, red-haired and freckled, with the sort of body that seems only marginally under its owner's control; it appeared to have been built out of knees.
And this is the wizard Cutwell:
Instead of the grey-bearded mystic Mort had expected, he saw a round, rather plump face, pink and white like a pork pie, which it somewhat resembled in other respects. For example, like most pork pies, it didn't have a beard and, like most pork pies, it looked basically good natured.
His characters are unique, and yet completely knowable at the same time. I really enjoy Mort's interactions with Ysabell, DEATH's daughter (see, not so straightforward) and there are some really lovely scenes that combine humour with a gentle melancholy. Overall, a fun, pleasant read; not the best Discworld novel I've read so far, but that's like saying key lime pie isn't the best pie in the world. It's still pretty darn fabulous.
Incidentally, I happen to know that Darla over at books & other thoughts is re-reading the Discworld series, and has reviewed Mort as well. Check it out! and then... onward to Sourcery! After my hold comes in.