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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Reaper Man

Reaper Man
(A Discworld Novel)
By Terry Pratchett

(5/5 stars)

My second foray into Pratchett's nearly 40-some book Discworld series was just as satisfying as the first. Whereas the first time I read one of the author's more recent offerings "Going Postal" this time I tried something a little older with "Reaper Man." The tagline on the cover read "It's no fun when Death takes a holiday" which could be amended to add "--except for readers of this book."

As the title suggests, "Reaper Man" is about Death, both with a capital and lower-case D. Two stories run throughout the book, finally intersecting at the end. The first is about Death--the Grim Reaper in popular parlance--who is being retired by his masters because Death seems to be developing a personality. With typical bureaucratic foresight, Death's masters have no replacement lined up.

The impact of this is told through the story of 130-year-old wizard Windle Poons. After living a long, dull life at Unseen University, Windle is finally ready to go into the Great Beyond. He finally passes away at his retirement party, but soon finds one hitch: no one is there to collect his spirit. With nowhere else to go, Windle returns to his body and becomes a zombie. Not the mindless, shambling, brain-eating zombies of horror movie fame. Instead, Windle finds true mastery of his body for the first time, giving him super strength and super senses and probably a super odor from decay as well.

Meanwhile, Death decides to see the world and ends up in an out of the way mountain village where he goes to work for the ancient spinster Miss Flitworth doing--what else--harvesting with a scythe. For the first time Death discovers what it means to be alive, experiencing both the triumphs and tragedies of mortality.

Back in the metropolis of Ankh-Morpork, strange events are afoot. Without a Death, many other people are having the same trouble as Windle Poon, leading to disastrous consequences. Windle makes friends with a group of the undead that include a vampire, werewolf, and Bogeyman and finds himself at the epicenter of an invasion of snow globes that are the prelude to a far more dangerous enemy.

"Reaper Man" features more of Pratchett's wit and topical humor that make for an easy and fun read even if you're not really into fantasy--like myself. Really, if this book can't make you laugh then you need a funny bone transplant. Yet while it is humorous and fun, there's also a deepness and meaning to it all, which makes it a great book to read on multiple levels. If you can laugh and learn something that's the best of both worlds, right?

The last thirty pages or so of the book I thought were really excellent. It's the kind of ending that makes you want to laugh and cry at the same time. Finding an ending that powerful is pretty rare for me and so makes this book well worth reading.

That is all.

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