Thursday, October 15, 2009

Mort by Terry Pratchett

Back on the Discworld, and this time we're hanging out with one of my favourite characters: DEATH. DEATH, who seems so unambiguous and straightforward at first, implacable, ancient, inhuman, amoral, and strangely wise. DEATH, who turns out to care about kittens, who apparently likes to gamble, and who starts thinking about taking a vacation.

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.


Cath said...

I adore Pratchett's work but am the first to admit that not all of it is fantastic. My own favourites are the Tiffany Aching trilogy (Wee Free Men etc.) *all* the Sam Vine books (Discworld crime) and various of the Granny Weatherwax and DEATH books. Carpe Jugulum is probably my favourite but I also like Thief of Time and Going Postal. His best Discworld stand-alone, for my money, is Monstrous Regiment which is one of the best comments on war that I've ever read. I think he needed to get into his stride and Mort, while good, is not one of his best, imo.

Unknown said...

Cath - I haven't reached any of the Sam Vine books yet, but I'm really looking forward to it. This is one of the reasons I'm glad I latched onto Pratchett late; there is an enormous backlist for me to go through, and I'm savouring every minute of it.

Mandy said...

*prepare yourself* I have not read any Terry Pratchett! But I loved this review! Actually, I HAVE read Good Omens. And I thought it was really funny. Should I start by just reading Mort? Is it a series?

Unknown said...

Mandy - You know what, I hadn't read any Pratchett either until less than a year ago. Well, I had, quite a long time ago, but none of it had stuck with me. It is a series, sort of; they are a group of books set in the same world (the Discworld), with many recurring characters. I don't *think* the series needs to be read in order, with some exceptions, but I think it is more enjoyable in order.

I hadn't really caught on to how great Pratchett was until I read The Wee Free Men (out of order, incidentally) which I absolutely loved. I wouldn't start with Mort, I'd start with TWFM or right at the beginning with The Colour of Magic, or perhaps with some of the suggestions from Cath above (I haven't gotten that far yet). If you start with TCOM, remember that Pratchett was really just getting warmed up, and it's still a ridiculous, fun story.

Cara Powers said...

I got into Pratchett late too, just last Christmas actually. The character development in the Sam Vimes books over the course of the series is great. He really grows as a character, only slightly in the individual books, but greatly over the whole series.

Unknown said...

Cara - I can tell I'm going to need to read those books. I know we have Guards! Guards! in the library system... is that Sam's first book?

Jill said...

I'm glad you liked this one - as you say, what's not to like? Tiffany will always be my favorite, but really, a book by Pratchett that I like moderately is still usually head and shoulders above most others. I have been sidetracked by all these RIP books and really need to get back to Discworld soon!

Unknown said...

Darla - "a book by Pratchett that I like moderately is still usually head and shoulders above most others."

Yes, exactly! Mmm. Pie.