Soul Music by Terry Pratchett

Soul Music, the Sixteenth Discworld novel, wasn’t necessarily my favourite read of his. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty that’s amusing, and more than just one or two poignant moments that showcase the depth of skill at Pratchett’s pen nib. This is part of the Death sub-series of Discworld novels, as you might’ve guessed from the cover – it is gorgeous, isn’t it?

The star of this book is Susan sto Hellit, the granndaughter of ol’ bonebag himself. Susan, an orphaned girl in an all-girls school, is called to the greatest Duty ever — to fulfill the shoes of her grandfather, of whom she remembers next to nothing. Susan is sixteen, and taught to trust the ways of logic — a ludicrous enough preposition in the Discworld, but what can you do, education ruins young people nowadays, wrote the 23-year old. When she’s forced to take on her grandfather’s mantle as the personification of Death, Susan who is now mid-way between an abstract concept and a human being (difficult preposition, as I well know, being on the crossroads myself), she rebels at the unfairness of it all, the terrible cruelty of senseless death.

Meanwhile, in good old Ankh-Morpork, Imp y Celyn is a lute player from Quirm, a young lad come to search for the greatest city on the Discworld. Pity him, finding Ankh-Morpork instead but what can you do — sometimes, the trouble finds you. What trouble is, in this case, is a guitar with music in it. And not just any music, but music with rocks in which is to say, rock music. And the Discworld is far, far away from ready for such a thing. Music is a rhythm, the rhythm of life, of all the universe — and an overwhelming one, at that, the sort of force that’s bound to stir up human hearts and minds. And it does, oh how it does.

Take, for example, the Wizards of Unseen University — and not just any old wizards but the Bursar, the Lecturer in Ancient Runes and, oh my, the Dean himself. These big-time faculty members of the University staff fly off the handle in a spectacular, funny way — it’s something to behold, I promise you that. The only one not to get affected by music with rocks in, is good old reliable Mustrum Ridcully, the Arch-Chancellor of Unseen University. I’ve loved his character for several books now — his role in Lords and Ladies especially won me over. Ridcully is the most down-to-earth wizard you’ll ever meet and I love his life philosophy, which is summarized in the following lines:

The Archchancellor polished his staff as he walked along. It was a particularly good one, six feet long and quite magical. Not that he used magic very much. In his experience, anything that couldn’t be disposed of with a couple of whacks from six feet of oak was probably immune to magic as well.

Soul Music by Terry Pratchett, p. 319

Particularly enjoyable are the interactions between Ridcully and Susan Death — although she often overreacts at his grandfatherly manner, reading it as condescension, the two eventually have a nice sit-down and have a good talk between them. I wonder if the next two Death novels in which she appears will add on to this relationship — I hope they will.

The musical sub-plot wasn’t all that interesting. It was funny, there’s plenty of jokes that hit the mark — take, for example the fact that one of our bandmembers is called Glod, and is a dwarf; within a few pages of his first appearance, the dwarf sends his fellow bandmembers, a troll and the guitar-playing Imp y Celyn neé Buddy, to steal a piano. They are, the troll notes without understand why, On a mission from Glod.

Vetinari makes his appearance, as well, slightly puzzled over the appearance of this new type of music — just a few scenes, but all are quite good and on the nose.

Death, himself, is often sobering. He’s going through something that has shaken him all the way down his bones — and though I won’t say what, there are more than a few powerful scenes that make you feel…not sorry for, but certainly, you feel Death’s sorrow.

The ending of Soul Music is really good; everything comes together in a spectacular fashion, even the elements I cared less about. And then there is Death, and he plays a note, and the climax of the story leaves you with goosebumps and shivering all over. The relationship between him and Susan, though strained at times, ends up in a spot I thoroughly enjoyed.

Yes, Soul Music might not be my favourite Discworld novel but it heavily features some of my all-time favourite Discworld characters and it tells several stories, most of which I found compelling and poignant. The ending is strong, the interactions between the characters often fantastic, the humour giggle-inducing. I’m looking forward to the next Death novel, Hogfather.

You should read Terry Pratchett’s Soul Music if you:

  • Enjoyed Mort – these two stories are connected and though you can read this without having picked up the first Death Discworld novel, you’ll get more out of it if you’re familiar with the events of it;
  • You just luuuuuuuv death! Well, Death. The Discworld character, you silly goth kid;
  • You know what Terry Pratchett does, and want more of it, this is definitely a book I’d recommend to someone who’s enjoyed Discworld novels previously though it might not be my first choice for a brand new Discworld afficionado;
  • You like any of the following characters — Ridcully, the Librarian, Vetinari, the wizards of Unseen University, Ankh-Morpork, the pair of Watch guardsmen whose names I forgot, the corporal and the other one!
  • And more! Prob’ly.

Thank you for reading! Next up on my exclusive blog reviews, we’ll have ourselves a little discussion of Vol. 03 of Monstress, which just won the 2019 Hugo award for best graphic novel!

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