Terry Pratchett,
Soul Music
(HarperPrism, 1995)

Death is depressed after his own adopted daughter and her husband, his former apprentice, die in a carriage wreck. He relinquishes his duties and heads off into the desert to try to forget the pain. OK, so far, this doesn't sound like the typical Terry Pratchett laugh-a-line Discworld novel, but believe me, the chuckles are on their way.

Of course, those who've read his earlier novels might already be wondering if the British humorist hasn't started losing his creative touch. After all, didn't we already have a book about Death giving up his duties and heading off into the mortal world, and all the problems that ensued because of it? Yup. But don't worry, Pratchett isn't repeating himself yet. Despite the slight similarities in plot set-up, Soul Music is very different than the earlier Reaper Man.

For one thing, we've got Susan, the now-orphaned granddaughter of Death. With granddad off doing his thing in the desert with the Klatchian Foreign Legion, Susan is drawn (unwillingly, mind you) into the vacant role in his stead. (We'll ignore the fact that there's no actual blood tie between them; this is fantasy, after all.) Susan, as you might guess, decides to handle the job a little differently than granddad did ... and, of course, his sense of fashion has got to go.

However, Soul Music isn't really about the new Lady Death. It's about Imp y Celyn (the name translates loosely to "Buddy Holly," by the way), a young harper who comes to the big city of Ankh-Morpork with big dreams for his music. He meets up with a horn-blowin' dwarf and a rock-pounding troll and, unable to pay the high Musician's Guild fees, they decide to freelance. But when Imp's harp is smashed, he takes up a possibly enchanted guitar in its place. The band has its first gig in a disreputable bar -- they play badly, but with enthusiasm and, more importantly, lots of volume, and what do you know, they're a hit.

Suddenly, the Discworld music scene will never be the same. The people have discovered "music with rocks in," and Imp and friends are the Beatles of their world. Overnight, dress and hair styles change, attitudes shift and a lot of formerly respectable people begin acting a bit, well, odd. The fact that this includes the senior faculty of the Unseen University is even better.

For this music with rocks in may be alive, and it's not going to leave Ankh-Morpork without a fight.

Lady Death, meanwhile, is still in the picture, and is confused by the knowledge that Imp was supposed to die ... but didn't. His music, it seems, is keeping him alive against all probabilities and, quite likely, the rules. But the Susan Reaper doesn't play by the rules....

Pratchett bludgeons his readers with a few more puns of the one-line groaner variety in this one, but I'll chalk that up to chance and assume he'd accidentally read something by Piers Anthony and needed to purge his soul. Soul Music is a rollicking take on rock 'n' roll as it applies to the Discworld, and anyone who has ever played in a band, attended a folk festival or dealt with parents who weren't entirely amused by a stereo's volume capacity will find hilarious reflections within.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 8 October 1999

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