Mort was the first Discworld novel I ever read. I still have my old German paperback hidden away in the second row of a shelf somewhere. I was 16 when I first read it and, to say the least, the sparks didn’t really fly. Since then, I have rediscovered the amazingness that is the Discworld, so I thought it was time for a reread (or re-listen, in this case). What I have learned from the experience is that I do not envy the translator/s of these books – transporting Terry Pratchett’s wit into another language must be causing migraines all over the world…
Published by: Corgi, 1987
Ebook: 316 pages
Audiobook: 7h 38m
Series: Discworld #4, Death #1
My rating: 7/10
First sentence: This is the bright candlelit room where the lifetimers are stored – shelf upon shelf of them, pouring their fine sand from the future into the past.
It is known as the Discworld. It is a flat planet, supported on the backs of four elephants, who in turn stand on the back of the great turtle A’Tuin as it swims majestically through space. And it is quite possibly the funniest place in all of creation…
Death comes to us all. When he came to Mort, he offered him a job.
After being assured that being dead was not compulsory, Mort accepted. However, he soon found that romantic longings did not mix easily with the responsibilities of being Death’s apprentice
Mort is a young man who doesn’t quite fit in. When he decides to become an apprentice and learn a trade, people find the most exciting pretexts for not taking him on. So he waits until the fair is over. Until midnight, to be precise. Standing there, when most people have left, still un-apprenticed, Mort’s hope begins to fade. Until a big white horse with a suspiciously skinny rider appears and Mort gets the job as Death’s apprentice.
Many people recommend Mort as a Discworld starter novel and I see why (although I disagree). It is the fourth Discworld novel and the first one to introduce Death as a protagonist. However, and many Pratchett fans will tell you this, the earlier novels aren’t nearly as great as the later ones. I fell in love with the YA novels (The Amazing Maurice and Tiffany Aching) long after I tried the starter novels. Both Mort and Guards! Guards! were fun but, to me, they come from a time when Discworld was still growing and each sub-series was still finding its own voice. And you can read them without any plan or order whatsoever and still get all the fun. To me, reading the witches books after meeting Granny and Nanny in the Tiffany Aching novels, was still brilliant. I didn’t stick with them after reading Equal Rites, the first witches novel, which goes to show that starting at the beginning is not always the best idea.
That said, I adore Death as a character. His deep, booming voice appears right in the heads of people rather than being spoken out loud. It is written in CAPITAL LETTERS, which seems like such a simple trick to convey tone and strength in writing, but it actually works pretty well. Nigel Planer, the narrator of the audiobook, adds a little something extra through his reading of Death. His deep voice delivers Death’s speech as monotone, seemingly without emotions, which makes for hilarious moments, for example when Death COULD MURDER A CURRY.
I enjoyed Mort much more the second time I read it. The audiobook narration is probably as much responsible as my general love for the Discworld, and if you know me, you’ll guess that it’s really the characters that make this book so good. Death personified could have been many things, but Terry Pratchett decided to make the Grim Reaper not all that grim, rather a very strange, ancient being who is trying to learn more about humans. Watching Death learn how to have fun and watching Mort grow more and more into his master was just fascinating.
The story kicks off when Death sends Mort on his first night out alone. Mort knows how to collect souls by now, he can use the scythe, he does the first two jobs really well. For those who have read The Long Earth, there is a bonus appearance of Lobsang which is worth a giggle or two. But when it comes to collecting the soul of princess Keli, Mort’s feelings get in the way. His crush on the pretty girl make him change destiny, despite Death’s warnings that even the smallest change can destroy the entire world. I quite liked the theme of the plot. It puts human emotions, love and empathy, up against the smooth course of the world. If these two collide, whatever happens can’t be good. But how can you go against your own nature? Taking the souls of an old witch and a priest who seems to be re-born over and over again anyway doesn’t seem so bad. But a young girl with most of her life still ahead of her? I believe, even without Mort’s crush, most of us would have qualms doing that particular job.
My favorite Discworld characters will always be the Lancre Witches, but there is a lot to be said for Death as well. Death, Mort, Ysabel, and Albert are subtler personalities than, say, the wizards. You can’t quite put your finger on what Death is thinking any given moment. Mort’s story is a coming-of-age tale, but a very different one from most boys. And Ysabel… well, Ysabel. I vaguely remember disliking her a lot when I first read the book as a teenager. This time, she grew on me so much that I was sad to find out she probably won’t show up as much in the next Death novel. She had great insight into Death’s personality, having lived with him for such a long time and without her, Mort would have been lost on more than one occasion.
The ending was a tad disappointing, in that it went so smoothly. Or maybe that’s just me making excuses. I really grew fond of Mort and Susan and am sad to say goodbye so soon. But, knowing Sir Terry, maybe there will be a cameo or two in one of the other Death novels. I’m about to find out, as I’m already halfway through Reaper Man.
RATING: 7/10 – Very good