My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Poor Mort. Before he was apprenticed to Death it took two pages for his father to describe him in conversation:
the sort of body that seems to be only marginally under its owner’s control…built out of knees…his legs go all over the place…his heart’s in the right place…couldn’t find his arse with both hands…sometimes he starts thinking so hard you has to hit him round the head to get his attention
And once apprenticed, he has a hard time coming to terms with Death: mucking out his stables, walking through walls, and altering the very fabric of the multiverse through his actions.
In Mort Pratchett’s style is a wicked mix of subtle and in-your-face, and puns within jokes are common (yes, he really said ‘fragrantly’):
A lot of stories are told about scumble, and how it is made out on the damp marshes according to ancient recipes handed down rather unsteadily from father to son. It’s not true about the rats, or the snake heads, or the lead shot. The one about the dead sheep is a complete fabrication. We can lay to rest all the variations of the one about the trouser button. But the one about not letting it come into contact with metal is absolutely true, because when the landlord fragrantly shortchanged Mort and plonked the small heap of copper in a puddle of the stuff it immediately began to froth.
Normally I find stopping to re-read a passage because the sequence is backwards (ie the effect comes before the cause) is annoying to the point of terminal, but with Pratchett it’s part of the joy–he makes you feel like you’re in on the joke:
[Mort] drummed his fingers on the table, although the sound was surprisingly muted.
‘Sorry,’ said Cutwell. ‘I can’t get the hang of treacle sandwiches, either.’
‘I reckon the interface is moving at a slow walking pace,’ said Mort, licking his fingers absentmindedly.
And sometimes he mixes poetic descriptions into the mix to really throw you offguard:
It was midnight in Ankh-Morpork, but in the great twin city, the only difference between night and day was, well, it was darker. The markets were thronged, the spectators were still thickly clustered around the whore pits, runners-up in the city’s eternal and byzantine gang warfare drifted silently down through the chilly waters of the river with lead weights tied to their feet, dealers in various illegal and even illogical delights plied their sidelong trade, burglars burgled, knives flashed starlight in alleyways, astrologers started their day’s work and in The Shades a nightwatchman who had lost his way rang his bell and cried out: ‘Twelve o’clock and all’s arrrrgghhhh…’
But more than anything, this is a moving story that will leave you feeling like you know Death a whole lot better–and maybe even feel a bit sorry for him.