Saturday, 20 September 2014

On a Pale Horse


I got this audiobook in a batch I bought a couple of months ago on humblebundle. I tried some from that purchase but somehow none has matched my taste so far. Until I've listened to Piers Anthony's "On a Pale Horse".
The novel is set in more or less contemporary times but it's a different reality in which magic commonly mixes with technology. So while items like flying carpets and magic stones are widely used, there are also plenty of other, more familiar things like cars, cameras and taxes. The protagonist, Zane, is a photographer. He's struggling financially and is disillusioned after losing an opportunity for great love. In a moment of greatest crisis he decides to commit a suicide, which doesn't go as planned as not only does he survive but he also manages to... kill Death. As a result, he is forced to assume his office. Zane is completely bewildered and his confusion matches well the state of mind of a reader. I thought it was a great idea to throw the protagonist in at the deep end. Both the protagonist and the reader are completely unfamiliar with this new reality so it helps in identifying closely with Zane and his new circumstances.
As the protagonist continues his work he meets "clients" from various backgrounds and whose causes of death are always different. His job is not only to collect the souls but also to judge where they end up. Zane's doubts enable the author to reflect on various moral issues such as how to judge the death of a child who was born of incest, where do non-believers end up, is mercy killing justified? Zane seems a bit naive and uses rational mind and emotions to make his decisions. This human aspect distinguishes him from his predecessors and make following his actions an interesting process. 
The world created by Piers Anthony made me think about Pratchett's Discworld more than once. Often events that might seem completely out of this world are presented as part and parcel of everyday life. As we follow Zane's story and witness his meetings with various "clients", we are often forced to think about the moral aspect of his job and the nature of God and Satan. Yet, as thought-provoking as these encounters are, Anthony avoids giving straight answers. 

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