We’re only four books in but I think it’s safe to say that we already have a clear winner for most popular Discworld character. Now perhaps it’s not one you might expect and I suspect it might not have been the one who Sir Terry suspected when he first wrote about a terrible wizard and hapless tourist. Yet he is already stepping out of the background and into the leading role. Well maybe co-lead. Yes it’s
The Librarian DEATH who is struggling to focus on the task at hand in……
We open, once again, in the Ramtops meaning that the only major player we’re really missing by the end is Ankh Morpork itself. Oh sure it’s cropped up once or twice but considering how major a player it is by the end it’s diminished presence is quite noticeable when you go back to the early years. The book hinges on a hook left over from ‘The Light Fantastic’ and the fact that Death has a daughter; with a good deal more meat on her bones than he. Not that we will be focusing on her but instead a young boy named Mort who shall be filling the role of apprentice. The choice to cast her almost to the side probably comes from the idea that she’s be too familiar with the whole set up to serve very well as our protagonist what with having been here for a little over thirty five years; despite being only sixteen herself. Plus I am sure there are many that would say that had a woman held the role things might not have gone quite so wrong as they did and if that were the case we wouldn’t have much of a book would we?
See Death isn’t looking to expand or anything but is just struggling to keep his mind on his work. He knows all about how life ends and yet feels like he knows so little about the subject itself. Work, hobbies and friends are all a mystery to the Grim Reaper and so after showing Mort the ropes let him have at it while he tries to wrap his head around things like alcohol and cats. While Mort has the expected first few hicoughs in swinging the scythe like dealing with Witches who are waiting for him or the basic principle of walking through walls it is not until he is let out on his own properly and sent to retrieve the soul of a princess that he really fouls up. Despite becoming a anthropomorphic personification he still only has so much blood in his body and it can’t run everything at once. Thus he decides to intervene and take the assassin instead. While this would be a foul up on its own things get worse when it seems that reality decides he isn’t worth paying attention to and carries on regardless. Mort is now left with a Princess that everyone kind of assumes is dead, even when she is in the room with them which is exactly the social faux par you are supposed to avoid and exactly these kind of high class social shin digs.
Perhaps you don’t need my review of this book. I mean that’s never stopped me before but even I must confess that there might be someone of a higher authority on this book than me and that’s Terry himself. He’s gone on record as saying that for him this is where the series really begins and I have to agree but it’s also the point where the jokes started serving the story rather than the other way around and that’s true too. Perhaps the low stakes of one human life help as we’re told that once reality realises what is wrong it will simply set things back on track putting people back in their beds, dukes on to the throne they’ve finally managed to usurp and princess in the ground where they belong. Maybe it’s the way he seems free to cherry pick the character he wants for the tale with a bottled ointment from Granny Weatherwax herself and a cameo from the Librarians new assistant. What ever of these it is, it does help though the book is not without fault.
The lack of a real threat to the world at large after the last few books at times make you wonder why you should care and the cast don’t really help in the way they should. Just like Esk from the last tale it’s kind of easy to see why our main two don’t come back except to die for dramatic reasoning. If this is the first true Discworld novel you still shouldn’t feel obliged to read it. Albert is a treat but he will return to much greater affect down the line and even the idea of Death taking a holiday is revisited later on. The end feels a little trite with Mort and Ysabella settling down even though they share very little chemistry in the book. Don’t misunderstand me, the two work well together but even though she is playing the hard to get part she has found in many of he great romances you still feel that they only elope at the end because narrativelly that is what makes a good and happy ending and right now that is the only one allowed for these books. Considering how much these books are even now bucking the fantasy trends and how hard he swung for feminism and equal rights in the last book it does however seem a little odd at play here.