“Mort” is the fourth book in the Discworld series by Sir Terry Pratchett and the first book of the Death series of stories within the Discworld. “Mort” stands out as the point where the Discworld series goes from an occasionally funny if bland send-up of the fantasy genre to a legitimately good piece of fiction with depth that is capable of delivery both laughs as well as heart-wrenching moments of true emotional attachment to its characters.
The book is centered around Mort, an unremarkable seeming young man whose father is worried will never amount to anything. They make their way to a hiring fair so that Mort can be apprenticed to a tradesman, but he was not picked by anyone until Death himself appears and selects Mort to serve as his apprentice. Since Death is an anthropomorphic personification and has no actual need for an apprentice as he cannot die, Death actually only wants Mort so that he can marry his adopted daughter, Ysabell, and take the occasional day off. Mort still has to learn about the nature of Death’s duties on the Discworld during which he meets Princess Keli, a noble in line to rule the country of Sto Helit who is about to be assassinated by her uncle so that he may become king. Instead of taking her life, he kills the assassin early and saves her. Unfortunately, because this is a direct violation of fated events, both realize where she lives and Sto Hilt spends generations fighting its neighbor Sto Lat. Her uncle unites the two regions as the ‘true’ timeline begins to dominate the world and Mort must again save the princess only now from the ravages of two colliding realities instead of a crossbow bolt.
“Mort” is an amazing bit of fiction that spins and weaves a beautiful story by taking standard fantasy conventions and subverting them. It creates a story that is unique in a genre that has become bland and stale with cliches. The hero is a young man whose love at first sight breaks time and space apart and is described as more Don Quixote than Tristan Und Isolde, there is no true antagonist to fight, and Death is a ‘living’ being who desperately wants to be able to empathize with people and ultimately be loved so that he may not be alone outside of time anymore. The writing is sharp, understandable, and can be both humorous and somber when it needs to be. There are never moments where the reader does not care about any of the characters and the book even manages to humanize Death as a figure slowly understanding what humanity is after thousands of years of delivering them to death. The only weakness of the book is the format which, while easy to get used to, might be off-putting. While the book is roughly three hundred pages, it is not divided into chapters or arcs or anything beyond paragraphs and will switch perspectives and location between paragraphs on occasion.
“Mort” is an incredibly fun book for anyone, not just fans of the genre. While the format can be offputting it can be acclimated to and is worth doing so to enjoy the book as well as the rest of the Discworld novels which are made in roughly the same way. Anyone who reads and loves this book should continue the Discworld series with the first books in a series which can be looked up online, or the next book in the Death series, Reaper Man.