Book Review: “Reaper Man” (1991) by Terry Pratchett

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In the second installment of the Discworld‘s Death subseries, Terry Pratchett once again shows that he is a not-so-secret humanist and a philosopher. He lures you in with wizard slapstick, hits you over the head with an achingly beautiful fable, and then leaves you by the side of the road with all these overwhelming feelings about people and the cosmos. Sneaky bastard.

Reaper Man continues the story of Mort, the first Pratchett book I read and reviewed for this site, which introduced Death’s struggle with his monotonous job and the loneliness that comes with it. When he is “fired” by the Auditors of Reality for developing a personality, Death has to start a new life in the human world, working on the farm of Miss Flitworth. We also meet Windle Poons, a wizard who, when Death doesn’t show up at his deathbed to claim him, finds himself stuck in his old body, forced to continue living (except not living exactly, but, you know) as one of the Undead. There are plenty of Pratchett’s trademark shenanigans, a joke in every line, and incredibly imaginative inventions (city eggs). The highlight is, of course, Death coming to terms with mortality and what it means to be alive. It is him that we root for, him that we want to see succeed.

This brings me to my next point, the reason why I didn’t give this book five stars: Death’s character arc is so engaging that the wizard-related comedy pales in comparison. I was so eager to see how things would end with “Bill Door” and Miss Flitworth that I found myself wanting to skim through the Windle Poon parts to get back to these characters. Poon’s paragraphs have plenty to offer in terms of quirky characters and funny concepts (like Schleppel the shy bogeyman who carries around a door with him to hide behind), but it simply cannot compete with Death’s existential crisis.

What are jokes compared to lines like this: “There was never anything to be gained from observing what humans said to one another – language was just there to hide their thoughts”?


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4 thoughts on “Book Review: “Reaper Man” (1991) by Terry Pratchett

  • December 7, 2014 at 7:25 pm
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    Reaper Man is quite possibly my favourite Discworld novel. Death is my favourite character in more than one fictional universe, but I have the exact same problem with it that you mentioned here. This might be my problem with all of Pratchett’s writing. He loves to weave different storylines into each other, and that’s just not my cup of tea. Still, I like to challenge myself when I see potential, and so I didn’t give up on the novels just because of that. I’ve gotten used to it now, because most his novel have a pretty good balance in the interestingness of the different storylines, but Reaper Man is still a tough one. Good Omens too, even though that one’s technically only 50% Pratchett. I’m afraid I’m one of those people who’s all about Crowley and Aziraphale. Newt who?

    (Now that I mention Good Omens and it being 50% one author, I wonder if you have an article on books written by multiple authors. If not, let me take this opportunity to go Inception on you and convince you that this is a great idea you’ve just had.)

    Reply
    • December 15, 2014 at 8:02 pm
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      I have not written a post on books written by multiple authors yet, but I certainly will now, that is an excellent suggestion!

      And I may only have read 2.5 Discworld books so far (I’m currently reading Soul Music), but Death is my absolute favourite so far as well. How can you not love Death? (…Is a sentence I never thought I’d type.)

      Reply
  • December 8, 2014 at 9:52 am
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    The Death arc of the Discworld series has got to be one of my favourite arcs, and some of the books have meant so much to me on a personal and existential level. I remember reading Reaper Man in bed, on my laptop, and there’d be a sentence or paragraph so beautiful and poignant, so reminescent of being alive and the inevitability of death that I’d break down into silent sobbing.
    Pratchett’s works are so, so important, and it always makes my day to see others talking about his books. Thank you for your review :)

    Reply
  • February 2, 2015 at 4:11 am
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    I am very fond of Pratchett’s books, also. I had the impression that the little globes were not city eggs, they were mall eggs, the intermediate phase being the shopping carts. The mall is a parasite or a predator.

    Reply

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