I am currently rereading the whole of the Discworld series in chronological order to commemorate the anniversary of Sir Terry Pratchett’s death, and Reaper Man is the first in the series that I have rated as unequivocally 5 stars.
It mainly features Death (obviously) and the Wizards of Unseen University, headed at this point by Archchancellor Ridcully, and many of the features that later became familiar start here: the Bursar’s shaky grasp of reality, the Dean’s enthusiastic grasping at new fads, the Senior Wrangler’s excruciating pedantism and Reg Shoe’s fight against the prevalent prejudice against the alternatively expired.
I particulary enjoyed my realisation on this read that Ridcully and his ‘gang’ very closely resemble grown-up (but not really adult) versions of another gang, headed by Just William and written by Richmal Crompton. (Fans know that this resemblance crops up again with Adam and the Them in Good Omens, Pratchett’s collaboration with Neil Gaiman).
This book also perfectly illustrates on of my favourite aspects of Sir Terry’s writing, which is his balance of pathos with levity. There are some truly touching, heartbreaking moments in the scenes between Bill Door and Miss Flitwick; the loaded silences and awkward attempts at a ‘human’ connection are devastatingly true to life. But then just as your heart strings are twanging away and the Onion Fairy is knocking on your door there is a perfectly timed break in the tension: a joke, an aside, something that makes you smile or giggle. Just like many of us find in real life, that touch of humour just makes the sadness bearable.
Having said that, this is a genuinely funny book, with plenty of more obvious and slapstick-style humour from the wizards and the Fresh Start club; Windle’s starring role gives you plenty to think about when it comes to aging and how we live the life we have, but without being bogged down in lecturing; and Death’s blundering towards a passable imitation of humanity is hilariously touching in it’s innocence.
Although the Guards series truly has my heart when it comes to the Discworld, I think Reaper Man would definitely have to sneak in there as one of my top 5 Pratchett books of all time. As it is a stand-alone plot, I can definitely recommend this one for readers who are considering giving Pratchett a go and don’t know where to start.
My first ever TP audiobook or book (I am 55). I was delighted and enthralled. The witty writing and brilliant acting by Tony Robinson kept me company through nights of grief following the early death of my husband. You might be thinking listening to a book about Death would be unhelpful in such circumstances - but quite the reverse!
Read this between hospital visits (heart stent and a bout of tonsillitis with a side order of kidney stones!), probably not everyone's idea of a perfect selection but it suited me. Another that falls in the "missed first time around" list and a good pick me up before the kidneys got me!
"Reaper Man" is the tenth book in Terry Pratchett's hugely popular Discworld series. He has gone on to win the Carnegie Medal for "The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents" and was awarded the OBE in 1998.
Death - tall guy, somewhat underfed, big grin, wears a black robe - appears in more Discworld books than any other character. However, "Reaper Man" is only the second - after "Mort" - where his appearance in anything other than a very brief cameo. Unfortunately, if the Auditors have anything to do with it, it'll also be his last appearance, Since his personality has led to certain 'irregularities', they've decided he should be retired. Unfortunately, one of the side-effects of his retirement will lead to Death's <ahem> death. However, in the time that he has left, Death packs his belongings and decides to live : he begins by taking a job as a farmhand at harvest-time. Luckily, he has some experience with a scythe....
Death never actually did the killing himself - he left that to assassins and soldiers, for example - he just took over when people died. His retirement has now caused certain complications : since no suitable replacement has yet been brought into existance, the dead aren't quite...staying deceased. Up until this point, one of the perks of being a wizard was that Death himself - and not one of his minor demons - turned up to usher you into the next life. Unfortunately, when Death fails to arrive for Windle Poons, the Unseen University's oldest wizard has nowhere else to go but back to his old body. Windle isn't impressed : he'd planned for reincarnation, not an afterlife as a zombie. With the help of the Fresh Start Club (for the recently undead), he intends to find out what's happening...though with his former colleagues at the University assisting, he might just die trying.
Despite his profession, Death is one of the funniest characters on the Discworld - nobody does deadpan (boom boom) quite like him ! As the second book to give him a starring role, it may prove a slight advantage to have "Mort" - which is also very funny. However, even if you've never read anything by Pratchett before, you should still enjoy "Reaper Man". Very highly recommended.
Pratchett's best book about his character "Death". Rather than the usual cameo appearance and a one-liner, Reaper Man is an entire story about the character Death. Pratchett, it could be said, has allowed Death to really come alive. Although it would be untrue to say that this story goes as far as putting flesh on the bones. A great abridgement as always. Robinson's reading help make this series the hit it is for me.
Shortsighted management has forced another "downsizing". This time the victim of layoff is Death himself, "retired" by the Auditors. He does his job efficiently and he doesn't sass the boss. He's just become "too involved" with those due to receive attention from his infinitely sharp scythe. The Auditors want a firmer hand on the reaping blade. On the street with time on his hands, Death decides he's going to spend it. Wandering the Discworld, he "gets his feet under the table" as hired man at Miss Flitworth's farm. Although a bit confused about eating and sleeping, he's able to respond with resolute affirmation when she asks, "Can you use a scythe?" He demonstrates a harvesting technique only Pratchett could devise. With Death no longer performing his role, strange events result. Unconfined, the life force manifests itself in bizarre ways. Death, visible to wizards, fails to arrive at an appointment. In consequence, Windle Poons is subjected to various indignities. His colleagues have a prejudice about zombies. Not having actually died, Windle decides to "get a life". Over a century of breathing doesn't necessarily mean you've been living, and Windle, like Death, decides to see something of the [Disc]world. His colleagues, uncertain as to why Windle's still upright and subjected to some mild indignities of their own, seek the cause of unusual manifestations. If you're new to the Discworld, all this must sound pretty grotesque. Death "fired" only to become a reaper on a spinster's farm? Wizards who can see him and know precisely when he's due? Take heart, this isn't a bleak version of the Merlin legend, nor a Stephen King horror story. It's Terry Pratchett, a writer with an unmatched talent for looking at the world we live in. He peers deeply at how life works. Then with countless deft twists, restructures our globe into a flat Disc. The Disc's filled with novel ideas and even more unusual people, but on second glance all seem terribly familiar. Death isn't a killer, for example. He's only there to collect lives when they're due to end. Unlike the tax man, he only arrives once, and he's terribly, terribly good at his job. To those familiar with Pratchett, this book should receive high marks. All of Ankh-Morpork's finest are here - even Sergeant Colon makes an appearance. While enlarging on the cameos Death's played in other Discworld books, Pratchett nearly lets Miss Flitworth walk away with this one. But it's Sal Lifton who does that - the Small Child who recognizes Bill Door as a "skellington" as she ponders how he can eat or sleep. For it's Sal who personifies why Death's been put out to pasture [sorry!]. What that implies about Death's philosophy of life [sorry, again!] and how all this reflects Pratchett's own views becomes vividly clear when the "new hire" appears. As with many modern managers, the Auditors have acquired a labour saving appliance. Pratchett's great genius is many-leveled. A light skim of any of his books is to experience high mirth rates. His talent for quirky description and one liners you seek ways to use in conversation is matchless. But a few months later, Reaper Man may arrive unbidden back in your hand. "There's something else", you may muse, going back to seek it. More jewels will be discovered, the witticisms skipped over revealing things of deeper value. You will then discover why this reviewer considers Pratchett as one of today's most valuable philosophers. And who rejoices seeing his children with PTerry in hand. If there's hope for survival of this species, it will be people like Pratchett conveying human values to people who need it most - the next generation. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]