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Book cover art by Ben Perrini (left).
Review © 1997 by Thomas M. Wagner.

Another irresistibly goofy bit of fluff in Terry Pratchett's staggeringly popular Discworld series, Mort tells the tale of the title youth, a rather simple young man who is hired as an apprentice one evening by none other the ever-popular Death. At first, poor Mort finds himself ingloriously mucking out the Reaper's stables. But soon the boy is accompanying Death on his soul-gathering rounds, and not long after is actually taking Death's own horse (Binky) out and filling in for the old Reaper himself.

But when Mort, out of love and chivalry, prevents the scheduled demise of a pretty teenage princess, his actions cause a rift in the course of history from that point on, causing two realities to exist simultaneously on the Discworld, confusing the locals no end. Meanwhile, Death is off enjoying a much needed holiday, discovering for the first time this strange human thing called "fun," and deciding he rather likes life now that he's had a chance to see what it's all about.

Yes, it is all rather silly for much of its length, and on first blush it seems to have all the substance of a bouquet of party balloons. But if there's one thing you can say about Terry Pratchett, it's that beneath the gags there's a really warm and endearing outlook on life, death, and the need to cherish the time we have before that time is, inescapably, up. While some of Pratchett's jokes are a tad too self-conscious (you can practically hear the laugh track accompanying them), quite often he's a droll fellow. The tales he spins are inventive, whimsical, and fun to read. Mort, after a shaky start with too many sarcastic dialogue exchanges and trite bits of slapstick including Death spoiling his air of ominousness by slipping on a patch of ice and that sort of thing, really begins to take off when the fantasy elements of the tale take precedence, and the humor starts to serve the story rather than vice versa. (Any untalented clod can string dorky gags and one liners together and try to pass it off as storytelling, but Pratchett is smarter than this.) Pratchett's massive fan following won't need any recommendation from me to pick up everything in existence with his byline on it. Mort is a funny book, and Terry Pratchett is a funny man, a deft fantasist and a reliable ticket to a rainy day's good reading.