Terry Pratchett, Mort

Terry Pratchett, Mort

An excellent introduction to the Discworld novels
Terry Pratchett is practically an institution. His fans are legion, and fervid. His Discworld series is an awe-inspiring work of world-building, and is a justly famous work of fantasy literature. In a 2003 BBC contest, Mort made the top 100 of Britain's favorite novels, and the #1 favorite Pratchett novel. 
 
I was recommended Mort as one of many easy points into the Discworld literature, which can be a little bit confusing and impenetrable to the newbie. And whereas the logical point to start would be the first one, in this case many fans agree that the earliest Discworld novels are not necessarily the best, or the best to entice in new readers.

I have always meant to get around to the Discworld novels "some day." (I enjoyed Good Omens, which Pratchett co-wrote with Neil Gaiman, but I was never sure how much of what I liked was Pratchett's work, and how much Gaiman's.) This year is my "some day" year, when I am making a point to get around to all those books I always meant to get around to, so I started with Mort.
 
I must confess… even though I recognize the excellence of this book, I didn't really enjoy it. It didn't click with me, for whatever reason an author's writing style and humor clicks with a reader. It's interesting, to appreciate the fact that a book is very good without actually liking it. Live and learn!
 
The titular character of Mort is a peasant boy who is rejected by his family for being too smart and thinking too much. He is apprenticed to Death, a skeletal figure in a traditional black coat who shows up to take people's souls when their lives run out.
 
The story gets going in earnest when Mort takes over Death's duties for a night. Mort botches a job involving a pretty young princess. He hasn't done her a favor, though, because the universe is convinced that she has died as she was supposed to. 
 
Pratchett's writing has a light touch, combined with a sense of humor very similar to that of Douglas Adams, both of which make his books very easy to read. This novel is an excellent introduction to Ankh-Morpok, the central city of Discworld. Mort was written in 1987, and I found myself thinking that its politics with regards to poverty, crime, and urban decay were very much of their time, and frequently rubbed me the wrong way. It made me wonder if more recent Discworld novels had a more nuanced, less conservative take on the subject.