Mort is the fourth instalment in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series (although the novels can easily be read out of sequence if you prefer). The eponymous Mort is a young, gangly teenager unsuited to life on his parents’ farm, and after failing to secure work in any other field he is chosen to become Death’s apprentice. The novel details the disastrous and often hilarious consequences of Death’s choice to employ him, and follows Mort as he learns that being Death is not as simple as it might at first appear.
‘Death’ is a personification of literal death, and is a central character in the book. The character is a play on the stereotypical grim reaper figure, who plays cameos in the Discworld novels previous to Mort, and has leading roles in several later ones. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Discworld, Death’s speech is indicated by CAPITAL LETTERS AND THE ABSENCE OF SPEECH MARKS, which lends the character distinction and individuality. Death subverts the readers’ expectations, coming out with lines such as I COULD MURDER A CURRY, and attempting to try his hand at human life; he is an interesting and entertaining character and he was one of my favourite aspects of the novel.
However, the main draw of Terry Pratchett’s books is their comedic value; an aspect which makes the Discworld series stand out from other fantasy books, which tend to be quite severe in tone. His novels are full of wit and British humour, and Mort is no exception, with a couple of laugh-out-loud moments, and it succeeds in keeping the reader entertained throughout. The humour resembles that of Monty Python, although less ridiculous and more low key; for example, here are a few of my favourite quotes:
I USHERED SOULS INTO THE NEXT WORLD. I WAS THE GRAVE OF ALL HOPE. I WAS THE ULTIMATE REALITY. I WAS THE ASSASSIN AGAINST WHOM NO LOCK WOULD HOLD.“Yes, point taken, but do you have any particular skills?”
‘“How can you eat things, sir?...THERE ARE TIMES, YOU KNOW, he said, half to himself, WHEN I GET REALLY UPSET.”
“It would seem that you have no useful skill or talent whatsoever” he said. “Have you thought of going into teaching?”
However Pratchett certainly doesn’t beat you over the head with comedy on every page, and it doesn’t feel like he’s putting in an awful lot of effort to be funny either; the humour feels effortless. This level of comedy lends the novel a light-hearted feel in spite of the gravity of the situation Mort ends up creating and makes for an enjoyable and easy read.
Although some of the characters (with the obvious exception of Death) aren’t too interesting, they are at least likeable for the most part. The novel is also well written, and I particularly enjoyed the vibrant description of the city of Ankh-Morpork.
This book was much more compelling than the other two Discworld novels I have read previously (The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic), and it has left me wanting more; I intend to read Reaperman, Soul Music and Hogfather sometime in the near future, all of which relate to Mort and feature Death as a central character.
To conclude, I have nothing particularly negative to say about Mort, but at the same time I didn’t feel as eager to continue reading it like I did with books such as Natsuo Kirino’s Out, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and - a personal favourite of mine - Stephen King’s Christine. Despite the novel being classed as ‘fantasy’, there are some elements of sci-fi lurking in there too, and the humour certainly makes all of the Discworld novels stand out amid your average fantasy book, so if fantasy isn’t generally your thing then don’t be afraid to give Mort a try regardless; it’s not the type of book I would normally go for either yet I really liked it.
I would recommend this book if you are looking for a light and comical read, perhaps after slogging through a particularly heavy classic novel. Mort is definitely the kind of book I would go to for a bit of fun, and I don’t know about you, but sometimes that’s just the sort of read I need!