In Soul Music, rock ‘n roll comes to the Discworld (or, rather, Music With Rocks In) and brings absolute chaos with it. The Dean of the Unseen University paints his room black and makes his own leather jacket with “Born To Rune” on the back, music literally becomes Imp the bard’s life, and a mysterious shop suddenly appears in Ankh-Morpork (and the second it does it has always been there). Basically, all the quirky mayhem you would expect from a Discworld novel.
Even though this is the third installment in the Death subseries, Death only plays a small role in the story. Rather, it is his absence that sets events into motion. Since Death is still going through an existential crisis and has taken off, it is up to Susan, Death’s granddaughter, to fill his shoes and figure out what on earth is going on. Susan is a highly rational girl, raised to deduce the workings of the world through hard logic, but is forced to come to terms that, sometimes, things do not make sense and cannot be explained, no matter how hard you try. Her struggle with mortality, her family history, and the extraordinary mythology of the Discworld is what drives Soul Music forward and continues on in Hogfather. The passages where Susan wanders through her grandfather’s house and sees how he tries to imitate humanity but keeps failing because he just doesn’t understand are Pratchett at his best. Example:
Beyond Death’s garden were fields of corn, their golden sheen the only colour in the landscape. Death might not have been any good at grass (black) and apple trees (gloss black on black), but all the depth of colour he hadn’t put elsewhere he’d put in the fields. They rippled as if in the wind, except that there wasn’t any wind.
Susan couldn’t imagine why he’d done it.
There was a path, though. It led across the fields for half a mile or so, then disappeared abruptly. It looked as though somebody walked out there occasionally and just stood, looking around.
Death breaks my heart you guys.
Oh, and there’s the Music With Rocks In.
Pratchett has a lot of fun writing as many barely veiled references to cultural icons as he can into the story (Blues Brothers, Meat Loaf, The Beatles, the list goes on) and the climax, involving the most epic guitar solo of all time, is excellent. However, the book takes far too long to get there; it has some serious pacing issues and really drags on at times. There is only so much you can squeeze out of this one idea and Pratchett has spread it too thin to keep it interesting for very long.
Soul Music has its moments, but is ultimately fairly forgettable. If it hadn’t been for Susan and her interactions with Death, I would even call it skippable. Luckily, Pratchett more than makes up for it in the fourth book in the Death series, Hogfather (read my review here!).
Wondering which rock songs Pratchett is referencing in this book?