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”?