Mark Reads ‘Soul Music’: Part 1

In the first part of Soul Music, Death has a change of heart. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld. 

Trigger Warning: For discussion of death and grief.

Ah, it’s time for a new Discworld book, and while there are plenty of familiar faces, there’s a new character!!! I’M SO EXCITED.

Susan Sto Helit

I think I’ll split this review up by the three main plots that unfold in this first part of Soul Music. It’s pretty bold to invoke the events of Mort in the opening of this book, only to immediately kill off both Mort and Ysabell. As it stands, that’s having more of an affect on Death’s life than it is for Susan. Susan is absolutely unlike any character we’ve ever seen in the Discworld series, and I love it. I love that there are virtually no jokes made about her or at her expense at all. In fact, her scenes throughout this first part of Soul Music just make everyone uncomfortable. While I don’t understand the genetic possibility of this, it seems to me that Susan takes after her grandfather. She is stoic and often doesn’t quite understand the emotional range of other humans. She’s not completely unaware, of course, and she’s also not unemotional herself. Hell, most of what she feels is anger, as if she’s better than the world around her.

And yes, that makes her teachers deathly uncomfortable. While much of her behavior is detailed in these pages, it’s clear that they’re exacerbated even further after the death of her parents. It’s not because Susan does anything wrong; the problem is that everyone else wants Susan to react as is expected of her. I adore this because I know firsthand that grief manifests in very strange ways. When my dad passed, I was told I got over it too quickly or that I didn’t cry enough. (Or too much. Bah, make up your mind!) It’s not like Susan is thrilled or bored by the thought that her parents died, but Death has been part of her life from the beginning. Miss Butts puts it best:

All she’d been able to manage was: “I wonder if, perhaps, you fully understood what I have told you?”

The child had stared at the ceiling as though trying to work out a difficult problem in algebra and then said, “I expect I will.”

It was as if she’d already known, and had dealt with it in some way.

And she has! But there’s another aspect about Susan that unnerves those she comes into contact with. Like Death, Susan can… well, disappear. That’s not quite the correct term, but she can will herself invisible, despite being totally visible, all by mentally convincing someone she isn’t there. It’s not something that happens involuntarily, either. So why does she do it? Why does she rely on this? It’s fascinating to me that we’re given a character who sees the world in such an disinterested light. Susan just believes she’s better than everyone else. Where did that idea come from?

The Imp

There was a brief moment where I entertained the dream of giving my life to music. I feel like I don’t often talk about it, but nothing in my life has been a bigger influence on who I am than music. I grew up on old soul and R&B, lots of doo-wop and oldies. By the time I was eight years old, my older sister was turning me towards more eclectic tastes. Bad Religion. Black Flag. Depeche Mode. Nine Inch Nails. And then, we moved to Southern California, and I was immersed in west coast hip hop. It was inescapable! I listened to Tupac and Snoop and Warren G, and then I’d obsess over Metallica and Born Against, and then I’d switch over to New Order and Bauhaus, and I developed a love of what music could do for me.

It gave me a glimpse of the world outside.

Fast forward to years later, when I won a scholarship for my journalism on the high school paper. I used that same money to buy my first guitar, one of those Ibanez starter kits with the tiny amp. I taught myself to play guitar entirely by ear, using punk rock and hardcore as my basis to expand to more difficult shit, progressing to the point where I could play rhythm fairly well. I still haven’t taken a single lesson, and I’m nowhere near as good as I’d like to be, but it got me in a few bands, got me touring the west coast, and I got really close to just quitting my job and devoting all my time to music. It was infectious, but it was unsustainable. So I relate to Imp the bard, from the country of Llamedos, because I had that dream. The reality of it was so much more complex and disappointing in a lot of ways, but I haven’t quite given up on it. One day, I’d love to be in a band again and tour the world, playing music.

Hopefully, this doesn’t end disastrously for Imp, but this is a Discworld book. He’s messing with forces he does not understand!


Unlike Susan, Death is viscerally bothered by the death of his daughter and son-in-law. Well, as much as Death can be bothered. It’s not the first time he’s gotten “curious” about something, and Albert is quick to remind us of multiple times in which Death deviated from the norm in order to explore something. I assume, then, that this is the closest that Death has come to feeling some sort of grief. Why else would he ask Albert about the meaning of it all? Why else would he journey to visit the holy man to ask about the point of the universe? Well, I feel like he did that partially because Pratchett wanted to poke fun at this character.

Here’s what I’m interested in: Why does Death want to know how humans forget things? What does memory have to do with all of this? I’m guessing he wants to forget something… right? I DON’T KNOW YET, Y’ALL.

The original text contains use of the word “mad.”

Mark Links Stuff

– I will be at numerous conventions in 2016! Check the full list of events on my Tour Dates / Appearances page.
– My Master Schedule is updated for the near and distant future for most projects, so please check it often. My next Double Features for Mark Watches will be Death Note and Neon Genesis Evangelion. On Mark Reads, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series will replace the Emelan books.
- Mark Does Stuff is on Facebook! I’ve got a community page up that I’m running. Guaranteed shenanigans!

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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