For those unaware of Soul Music and the Discworld series, it is a long-running comedy/fantasy series that began in 1983 with The Colour of Magic, continuing all the way up to The Shepherd’s Crown, which was published following Terry Pratchett’s death in 2015. As a huge Terry Pratchett fan I was immensely sad to learn of his passing earlier this year, and what better tribute to a much-loved author than helping to spread word of his work?
Discword is famous for parodying and critiquing society by mirroring elements of real-life in fiction. Soul Music is a fantastic, whimsical take on the advent of rock music (or ‘Music with Rocks In’, as it’s known on the Disc) and the effect it has on the people who play it, as well as the people who listen. Upon forming a band, elven harpist Imp Y Celyn ditches his harp for an electric guitar which is possessed by a powerful force, which takes over his life and rewrites his pre-defined future in the process. This, in turn, attracts the attention of Death’s granddaughter, Susan, whose temporary contractual position as the Reaper is suddenly made incredibly complicated.
If you read that and thought, “what?” then I don’t blame you. Soul Music is the sixteenth novel in the Discworld series, which builds upon an already rich tapestry and lively world built by the novels preceding it. Don’t let this put you off, however – each book is largely self-contained, with every bizarre phenomenon and referential plot point explained with delicate precision, allowing you to pick up any Discworld book and treat it as the first. Each book will tell you more about the bizarre flat planet of the Disc, which rests upon the shoulders of four giant space elephants. The elephants are perched precariously on a giant “star turtle” called The Great A’Tuin.
All you need to understand this novel is the knowledge that, on the Disc, the end of a person’s life is defined at the point they are born. At the same time, an hourglass and a book appear in an ancient library in the house of Death, measuring and recording the events of their life as they happen. Death uses his hourglasses to tell when it’s time to go reaping. In Soul Music, Death has taken an indefinite sabbatical citing “family troubles”, forcing his granddaughter, Susan, to carry out the duties of the Grim Reaper until he’s got all of his ducks in a row.
Soul Music takes a long, hard look at the concepts and driving forces behind the advent of rock music. Pratchett masterfully captures and distills the drastic effect it had on society into a metaphor, before gleefully releasing it on the Disc and watching it interface with its wonderfully dislikable inhabitants. Without giving too much away, the results are equal-parts hilarious and gripping; it is fascinating to watch how Pratchett holds a warped mirror up to humanity’s recent history, with the invention of cinema in Moving Pictures, and the steam train in Raising Steam.
I have been reading Discworld my entire life, and I cannot recommend the series highly enough. Pratchett has an incredibly funny and intelligent writing style, which simultaneously entertains, educates, and inspires you to analyse the way you view the world. Whether you’re looking for an involved read or something light, Soul Music will not disappoint.
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