The fourth Discworld book by Pratchett focuses on a young man, Mort, who is apprenticed to Death. That’s to say, he’s hired by Death to help out and to learn the business of ending lives when the time is right. Previously Death appeared as a secondary character, this book fills in much of his history and methods, while continuing to have lots of dark humor. One soon comes to realize that, if he didn’t look like a skeleton with glowing eyes and carry a scythe, Death might be a rather good person to know. To the young peasant boy, Mort, he’s quite kind and welcoming. Mort is surprisingly unafraid of Death, and makes himself at home in Death’s house, where the only other beings are a cook, a young girl who Death calls his daughter, and a magic horse that carries Death and Mort to their appointments. One thing made clear is that Death himself does not appear to every person at life’s end, just the more important ones.
As Mort begins to learn the trade, he is sent off on his own to take lives, following the prompts of hourglasses that measure the time of each person on Discworld. Where Mort runs into trouble is when he’s tasked with taking the life of a beautiful princess he rather fancies. Mort decides to change the rules, thereby throwing reality into chaos. While he’s doing that, Death himself is taking a long-overdue vacation, trying out some of life’s purported pleasures for himself, something he’s never done. By the time Death is dragged back to work, things are well out of hand, and it’s hard to say if they can be put right.
I enjoyed this book, but despite its reputation, I didn’t like it quite as much as the third book in the series, “Equal Rites.” It still seemed very plot-driven, though I did like the characters and storyline. Recommended.