Continuing my occasional read-through of the late Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, one novel at a time.
This week is the 16th book, Soul Music.
First appearances: Susan Sto Helit, Foul Ole Ron and his smell
Introduced to Discworld: Rock’n’roll
Plot: Death, for some reason, wants to forget. What does he want to forget? Anything. His memory means he will never forget anything that has or in many cases will happen to him and he’s a bit depressed about that, so he disappears.
Meanwhile, a music shop appears out of nowhere in Ankh-Morpork, selling musical instruments that…do things. When a strange guitar is bought by a young man named Imp y Celyn (whose name loosely translates to “Buddy Holly”), Music With Rocks In is born. Imp/Buddy wanted to be the most famous musician of all time, and with his two bandmates Glod the dwarf and Lias/Cliff the troll, the Band With Rocks In takes the Disc by storm.
Too bad that means Buddy/Imp has to die for his art.
Also too bad that Death’s absence means his (mostly) human granddaughter Susan gets drafted out of her boarding school to take up his responsibilities. Susan doesn’t remember Death at first, but with a little help from the Death of Rats and a raven, she seems to pick up on a few things she already knew like going unnoticed at will and moving through solid objects. That Susan is an incredibly sensible girl who at first doesn’t believe much in anthropomorphic personifications and even doubts the Tooth Fairy she encounters is real (to say nothing about the scythe-welding rat skeleton) doesn’t help, but the complete lack of really knowing how the job really works doesn’t help.
Can Death get his act together in time to fix things for Susan and Imp?
Commentary: I’m going to start with a minor complaint this time. While Pratchett has proven in the past to keep a good eye on where characters are, he seems to have forgotten Ponder Stibbons moved to Lancre back in Lords and Ladies. Instead, the young wizard is back at Unseen University, working on what will be HEX in another book or so, and baffling and being baffled by magic and the Archchancelor.
That’s probably a better place for the character, but I thought I’d throw that out there anyway.
As it is, the novel here has two basic plots: Death trying to forget and Susan trying to keep Buddy alive. Susan is still wrapped up in fairness, and even after Albert berates her for how, you know, the universe isn’t fair, she still tries to be a better Death than her missing grandfather by trying to see to it people who deserve to die go first. About the only thing I found annoying about Susan was her age…I couldn’t tell how old she was supposed to be at first and assumed younger until she outright said she was 16.
In this way, she’s an awful lot like her father, Mort, and her attitude of propriety seems to fall in line with her mother Ysabel, both of whom died in the recent past in a carriage accident. She even has a few odd facial marks from where Death slapped her dad. Her insistence that genetics doesn’t work that way doesn’t seem to bother anyone else.
Meanwhile, Music With Rocks In is taking off as, surprise surprise, it turns out to be a living thing that infects people and makes them want to rock out. That includes most of the senior faculty at Unseen University, suddenly given to painting their rooms black, wearing black leather vests with a lot of sequins (“BORN TO RUNE” is written on the back of the Dean’s new robe), and spiking their hair. Even the Librarian, often immune to this sort of nonsense, goes into it in a big way. Ridcully’s efforts to keep his faculty under control don’t seem to amount to much, but he does take an active interest in things and even offers some decent advice to Susan, seeing as how he’s one of the few people aware she’s there on a consistent basis.
As for Death’s efforts to forget, he tries heavy drinking and joining the Klatchian Foreign Legion. Neither work on him. He does become a beggar in Ankh-Morpork, which seems to have the desired effect until he has to do something, and leads to a quick moment where a musician walking the streets of the city gives him a coin, and the reader sees the line, “THANK YOU, said the grateful Death.”
Yeah, knowing a bit on Rock’s history would help out a great deal here. Band names, song titles, all get the Discworld re-write. Many are just in passing, though an extended bit on an actual hearing-impaired leopard does go on a bit long. And just as with Moving Pictures, C.M.O.T. Dibbler is there to play manager to someone and collect most of the money. The Band even gets a roadie at one point, and very flat troll named Asphalt.
Death often gets called in for the big mystical things, so having him on-hand makes sense. And now that he has a potential replacement every time he goes missing, someone who seems to be the sort of person who can stand up to her granddad, well, I am sure good things will come from this.
Goodreads tells me there is another short story between this and the next novel. This one is called “Troll Bridge” and features Cohen the Barbarian. Sadly, I couldn’t find that one online. Good thing Cohen appears prominently in the next book!
NEXT BOOK: The series picks up with Rincewind and the Luggage, now exploring a distant continent that looks an awful lot like a Discworld version of China. Be back here for Interesting Times.
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