In the sixth part of Mort, Mort makes a mistake. A colossal mistake. A WORLD-ALTERING MISTAKE. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Mort.
Oh, lord, how is Mort going to fix this? HOW?
Going through this a second time after reading it makes it clear that Mort was trying to do his best. He’s nearly late for the 88th abbot of the Holy Listeners, but he makes it there! And let me take a brief moment to acknowledge how cool the Listeners are. It’s an absurd creation, but I unironically like what the do??? I actually kind of wanted to see if Pratchett would deliver on the set-up with some hilarious joke about what it was the Creator actually said when he made the universe. That being said, it was totally worth it for that “Keep the bloody noise down!” line, too.
Anyway, I’d actually forgotten that Death had said that the second person Mort would be claiming had died multiple times. That makes the abbot the second reincarnated person on the Disc, yes? Since Billet reincarnated as an ant at the end of Equal Rites. The whole thing is a lot more confusing for Mort, and it made me realize that perhaps Death gave him three super challenging deaths to deal with, not easy ones. A witch, a reincarnating abbot, and the very princess he saw when King Olerve died. All of them are a bit out of the ordinary to someone who has been taking… well, normal mortal life. And Princess Keli in particular has a death that I think Death should have realized would trigger Mort’s sense of compassion.
Regardless, after leaving the abbot in a town nearby to await being born, he heads to his last death for the evening. (Did I understand it correctly that the abbot had been reincarnating into the same job as an abbot over and over again?) He does so, and Pratchett dooms him before he even starts:
Mort, feeling that the night had thrown everything at him and couldn’t get any worse, turned it around carefully to get a glimpse of the name.
So, did Mort recognize the name? I’m guessing he didn’t, since there was no way he could know something like that. Did he recognize the castle as Binky approached it? At what point did Mort decide that he couldn’t take this girl’s life? It had to be before Mort entered Keli’s room, given that Mort and Binky burst dramatically into the castle. And when he does, Mort brings the scythe down on the assassin set to kill Princess Keli. He takes someone else’s life to spare Keli. And lord, Pratchett wastes no time pointing out what a mess this is. Mort can’t figure what he’s safe to tell Keli because WHAT DO YOU SAY IN A SITUATION LIKE THIS? Even if he could explain everything, Mort was told by Death that you couldn’t stop something like this, but Mort did it. He altered fate, and given what we know of how Fate feels about his plans being fucked with, I don’t think it’s going to be long until this has horrible ramifications for Mort.
And there are immediate affects for him, though they mostly center around his own guilt. When he gets back home, he confirms in Princess Keli’s biography that she was supposed to die at fifteen and that her death was supposed to be a pivotal moment in the development of politics in the region. Instead of telling Death or Albert or Ysabell about what he’s done, he quietly sulks about the house. He has an awkward conversation with Albert. He hides Keli’s biography, which is incredibly foolish and pointless. He takes a temporary comfort in knowing that other biographies are still writing themselves, which he reasons means that “the universe was running smoothly.” For now, that is.
It’s when Pratchett switches point of view to Keli that we begin to understand just how ruinous Mort’s actions are. Full stop, her section here overshadows this whole thing I read for this review! It’s haunting and thrilling, y’all, and it’s also one of the most disturbing things Pratchett’s written thusfar. (Relative to me, I should state, because I always forget that I’m the one who is new to this, not most of you.) At first, I believed that Keli’s presence in a world where she was supposed to have died created only a few weird inconsistencies. People in the kingdom woke up believing that she had died, only to suddenly realize that they didn’t know why they were behaving as they were. But for Keli herself? It’s a billion times worse. People do not see her. It reminded me of the phenomenon that Death described that allowed him, Binky, and Mort to move about in the mortal world without being detected. People look at Keli, but because she was supposed to have died, their brains tell them that it is illogical that she is standing or sitting before them. Her experience at lunch IS NOT FUNNY AT ALL. It’s nightmarish!!!
And it only gets worse. She tries to have a conversation with her maid, and it’s about as disastrous as you would expect. The maid’s attention drifts constantly, and then she has to fight to accept the reality of Keli’s existence despite that her mind is telling her otherwise. Because she has no other rational explanation for all of this, she latches on to the one thing that might help her sort this mess out: magic. I mean, it’s not like Mort gave her a guide to deal with her fate-defying life, you know? It’s not like he knew what his actions would do to her life! Which is the point. Mort had the best of intentions in saving her life, but guess what? HE’S DEFINITELY MADE IT WORSE THAN IT WAS.
So, given that all Keli has to go on is “magic” and…. nothing. Nothing else. She visits a familiar face: CUTWELL. It’s time for MORE WIZARDRY. And I have no doubt that Cutwell won’t be able to help at all.
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