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]
"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.
on 1 January 2007
Reaper Man was the last Discworld novel I had left to read. I really want to say that it wasn't a let-down and that I thorougly enjoyed it, but that wouldn't be entirely true. The story has two, relatively-unassociated plot arcs, one which follows the trials of Death attempting to live as a mortal, and the other which tells of Ankh Morpork laying eggs that give rise to killer shopping trollies.
It was this latter story arc where my dissatisfaction fell. It started out interesting, and I was anticipating the chaos that would ensure when the undead took over the streets of Ankh Morpork. I thought the mysteriously-appearing snow-globes were going to be some sort of 'lifetimes' for the people who weren't dying, and that Poons and the Fresh Start club would have to retrieve every globe in the city to end the chaos. And I really wish this (or something along these lines) had have happened, because I believe it would have had funnier, more far-reaching consequences than the absurdity that was about to unfold. Killer shopping trollies and a giant organic shopping-mall thing??? Not funny, not plausable for the Discworld, NOT ENTERTAINING. Other instances where chaos had fallen on the city (eg. the events of Sourcery, Moving Pictures, Soul Music, and fires and civil wars) have been alluded to again in later books, but not so in this case and with good reason.
Next time I read Reaper Man I will probably skip the chapters with this story arc, which is a shame because TP introduces some great new characters here; namely, the members of the Fresh Start club and Mrs Cake and her daughter. It would be nice to see more of these characters in future stories because I believe they have some great potential. It's just the plot they found themselves in that stunk.
You might be wondering why I gave it 4 starts, after all this complaining I've just done. The reason is because of the OTHER story that gets told: that of Death and his relationship with Miss Flitworth. I think it's the most becautiful story Pratchett has ever written. Simple, but extremely dignified. You know how it will ultimately end, but Pratchett weaves a masterpeace that you can not stop reading. It is a fablel with a hundred simple messages, yet it is also a story of unfathomable depth. It more than makes up for events set in Ankh Morpork.
So for any other TP fans out there who haven't yet read Reaper Man, I suggest you go for it. Just be prepared for the Windle Poons plot to fizzle out. And read this book sooner than later, because the Death storyline introduces some of the concepts of later novels, such as the Dark Morris dance that the recent 'Wintersmith' revolves around, and the introduction of the Death of Rats, who appears in all later Death novels.
on 24 August 2001
What can I say, this book is truly magical. The very concept of the novel is bizarre; that Death could get fed up of his job and go off to do something different, like everyone else. Inevitably, the consequences of having the position of Death in the 'Situations Vacant' column, are amusing to say the least; but one 130-year old wizard (supposed to be dead) really does have the time of his life. Definitely one of the best Pratchetts.
on 18 May 2001
I'm still reading this book, and it's got me in stiches! It's basically about DEATH who's got the sack from some gods because he's started to get a personality. DEATH has now got a life, and is searching for work, so he get's a job on a farm, cutting corn with his scythe. - The problem is, without DEATH there'll be trouble! Windle Poons, a 130-year-old wizard, died and then came back to life as an undead wizard!! A superb read!! Funny!! Great!!
You wouldn’t think about job security becoming a problem for Death, the Defeater of Empires, the Swallower of Oceans, etc., but of course the Discworld is itself a contradiction in terms. When your world is a flat plane of existence transported through space atop the four elephants astride the Great Turtle A’tuin’s back, the impossible is surprisingly commonplace. In this bastion of animism and anthropomorphism, not only Death but the mysterious Auditors of Reality have been brought into existence via the mere consciousness running amuck throughout the world. These murkily-defined Auditors, who hate nothing so much as individualism, feel compelled to force Death into retirement for the simple reason that he had taken on something of a personality. If he actually has to die, Death is determined to at least live, and we soon find him working on Renata Flitworth’s farm in the plains below the Ramtops under the assumed name of Bill Door. Whereas Death has been known to indulge his curiosity of living men and women from time to time, in this significant Discworld chronicle he slips into the ways of man without conscious effort, and to some extent Bill Door actually does live for a time on the Discworld.
Naturally, you don’t just replace Death over night; it takes a while for the collective unconscious of all living things to formulate a New Death, and this period of temporary instability proves quite burdensome. One individual particularly unhappy about the current state of affairs is Windle Poons, the oldest of all the wizards in Unseen University. When Death doesn’t show up to meet him at the appointed hour, Poons eventually has little choice but to go and reinhabit his old body once again. He’s not the only undead person walking around in the days that follow. As if the walking dead weren’t problematic enough, inanimate objects begin moving around of their own accord, little glass snow-globes begin turning up everywhere, shopping carts with minds of their own become a menace to society, and the wholly unnatural buildup of life force caused by the absence of a Grim Reaper opens a window on the Discworld for the insidious invasion of the most fearful of all creations.
Reaper Man, the eleventh book in the series, is truly one of the quintessential Discworld novels. We get to see plenty of Death and gain much more valuable insight into his outlook on life; his non-human humanity really shines through his skeletal essence on several occasions in these pages. The always-hilarious wizards of Unseen University are in the mix of things as they should be, and they are joined by a number of Pratchett’s most singular characters. The remarkable Windle Poons, more alive than ever in his death, climbs out of the wheelchair of a very old, hard of hearing, mentally addled old wizard to become a very personable hero. For the first time we meet Mrs. Cake, the small medium seer who has a habit of answering questions just before they are asked, Mrs. Cake’s daughter Ludmilla who happens to be a werewolf, the aforementioned Renata Flitworth, the Death of Rats, and the unforgettable members of the Fresh Start Club formed by zombie Reg Shoe. Those undead creatures who have decided to rally around Shoe’s declaration that the dead aren’t going to take discrimination lying down any longer include the reluctant vampire Arthur and his wife (Count and Countess Notfaroutoe), a banshee, an exceedingly shy bogeyman, and a wereman. Pratchett’s wit and humor are in exceedingly good form throughout, making this one of the most enjoyable and inherently interesting of all Discworld novels.
on 25 February 2002
I have read a great deal of the disc world stories and I personally feel that this is my favourite (although all of the others are great reads and most are nearly as hilarious).
Death is a great "chap" and it's actually nice, and I mean this sincerely, that Prachett has made him such a loveable character as I think most of us think of death as being a bit scarey - for obvious reasons I suppose.
There's a great bit near the beginning when you hear the accounts of May flies and of the Counting Pines. I won't relay it here as I wouldn't want to ruin the joke but I'm sure those who have read it will know the bit I'm talking about - it's very funny indeed. Discover why Death has to use a real live horse, namely Binky, rather than the usual skeletal horse or Fiery Steed that you would usually expect.
A hilarious and also moving and thoughtful story of a seven foot "skelington" and an elderly zombified Wizard. I would urge anyone to read it.
The Auditors of Reality are unhappy with the Death of the Discworld, who has shown signs of individuality and - shudder - a personality. They decide to fire Death and recruit a replacement. Death accepts this decision stoically, and decides to spend his last few days of existence sampling life, adopting the alias of handyman Bill Door and going to work on a remote farm.
Unfortunately, Death's absence causes some anomalies. Windle Poons, the oldest wizard on the Disc, is upset to discover that, despite dying, he can't move on to the next life. As a result, he has to spend the interim as a zombie but, thankfully, he finds some help from Ankh-Morpork's resident undead rights movement. At the same time, an unusual plague of odd novelty items is afflicting the city. The wizards of Unseen University investigate and discover that something rather unusual is taking shape outside the city walls...
Reaper Man is, in the sometimes complicated hierarchy of Discworld novels, the second book to feature Death in a major role (following on from Mort and running ahead of Soul Music) and the first to feature the Unseen University wizards in a major role (although, confusingly, many of them appeared in a supporting capacity in Moving Pictures and the Librarian has been around since The Light Fantastic). Some of the City Watch (from Guards! Guards!) also crop up.
This slightly complicated arrangement probably adds to the schizophrenia of the novel. In all of the Discworld books prior to this, the storylines usually converge at the end and the story is usually quite focused. Reaper Man instead sprawls, with Death/Bill Door's adventures and the subplot of the wizards/Windle Poons not really gelling together. There is a vague link between them, but otherwise the two stories don't really intertwine, resulting in a rather disconnected feeling to the book. This is added to by the wizards stuff being quite funny and the Death stuff being quite serious (the advent of the Death of Rats aside).
Pratchett is also pursuing another satirical target here, following on from films in Moving Pictures and police procedurals in Guards! Guards! Unfortunately, the target is rather weak - Pratchett apparently doesn't like shopping malls, hates muzak and isn't keen on combine harvesters - and there's a distinctly half-hearted feeling to proceedings here. The book never really seems to come together and fire up like the best books in the series, despite many individually good moments and some funny lines. Ultimately this appears to be a case of Pratchett trying to be serious and even moving but also trying to throw some chaotic comedy into the mix as well, and it doesn't work. It's notable that when Pratchett separates the two out - as he does in the double-whammy of the more serious Small Gods and the funny Lords and Ladies - he does very well, but the mix here does not work as effectively.
Reaper Man (***) is readable and interesting, but definitely one of the less successful books in the series. It is available now in the UK and USA.
on 17 May 2002
This was the second Terry Pratchett Discworld novel I ever read (right after Hogfather...I'm not one for chronological order) and is my firm favourite out of all the Discworld novels I have read. Not only is it funny, but the plot is intruging and strangely philosophical (deep, man). Plus it is short compared to Hogfather, so I wasn't so put off by it. What I really liked was the sort of fairy tale magic of the harvest metaphor used in the book (Am I lame or what?). It wasn't all that satirical, as some of Pratchett's work can be, it was more a pure fantasy story, which made it all the more enjoyable. The characterisation of Death was excellent, and the other characters in the novel are used in an intricate way to aid his development. All jolly good.
on 26 November 2004
Death probably the most important thing on the discworld after the gods. Death as everyone knows takes away dead peoples spirits but when death himself becomes mortal that's when trouble ensues. Death has gone missing and is staying on a little farm in the hills. Of course then who takes the excess life away, nobody, dead people stay alive and any other life-force is emptied into the sky. Leading to millions of trolleys and the most excersice the dean of the unseen university has got in years. A bit more complicated than some other discworld books but is in the end a good book with the usual polish of all the others. Not recommended for beginners but experienced discworld readers will find it a pleasure to read.