More accurately, this is a review of the first and second books in the Incarnations of Immortality series, On A Pale Horse and Bearing an Hourglass, by Piers Anthony. Why is it only the first two books? Because I haven’t read the latest three and I want to write a review, that’s why.
It’s also weirdly hard to find an image of the whole cover of On A Pale Horse. I know it looks stupid but there’s not a whole lot I can do about it.
Plot summary for On A Pale Horse: When Zane shoots Death, he has to take the job, speeding over the world riding Mortis, his pale horse/limo, measuring souls for the exact balance of Good and Evil, sending each to Heaven or Hell instead of Purgatory. The new Thanatos is superbly competent, ends pain when he ends lives. But Satan is forging a trap for Luna, the woman Death loves.
Plot summary for Bearing An Hourglass: When life seemed pointless to Norton, he accepted the position as the Incarnation of Time, even though it meant living backward from present to past. The other seemingly all-powerful incantations of Immortality–Death, Fate, War, and Nature–made him welcome. Even Satan greeted him with gifts. But he soon discovered that the gifts were cunning traps and he had become enmeshed in a complex scheme of the Evil One to destroy all that was good….
Star Rating for The Incarnations of Immortality series (thus far): * * * *
So, essentially, The Incarnations of Immortality five-book series follows different individuals who have recently assumed the offices of Death, Father Time, the Fates and Mother Nature – one book per role. The fifth book, I think, deals mostly with the over-arching plot of Satan attempting to thwart all these different immortal figures to tip the moral balance of the world into evil once and for all.
I’m a total sucker for books where natural processes (or time travel) are institutionalised, which you could probably over-analyse into evidencing my adoration for pointless policies and regulations… but hey ho. Scythe is an excellent example of this, which was one of my Best Books of 2018, or The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. – which received the same accolade in 2017. Oh, and The Hogfather by Terry Pratchett, and any of his books in which Death features.
I’d actually posted on a Reddit forum looking for suggestions for similar books and received an outpouring of shock that I professed to love such books but hadn’t read Piers Anthony. Enter On A Pale Horse, which was swiftly followed by Bearing An Hourglass.
My instincts had told me that I’d be significantly more interested in Death than Father Time, and I was right. Zane’s job is to attend the scene of a death, collect the soul and assess it as being Heaven or Hell-bound. So far, so Hanna. Norton’s job in the second book is to… umm… sort out bumps in time when the Fates tell him something has gone wrong? It’s not 100% clear. I liked it, but it was occasionally a bit hard to follow, despite my love of time travel. He lives his life backwards and has an hourglass that lets him alter time in different ways so he can talk to people in a comprehensible way, but at times I just had to accept what was happening and not try to actually understand the how.
The Incarnations of Immortality series is just fun. Don’t get me wrong, it reads entirely like 1980s fantasy fiction, so you probably shouldn’t expect a masterpiece of scholarly fiction. The prose can be a bit clunky, the dialogue is occasionally slightly stilted and characters often come to accurate, far-reaching conclusions based on precisely zero evidence or common sense. But hey ho. You know what to expect when you pick it up and it’s worth it for the generally interesting plots. It’s far from unreadable in any event.
I did note that the attitude towards women isn’t exactly amazing. These were written in 1983 and 1984, so I’m not going to get massively uppity about it but you should be aware of it if that sort of thing bothers you. Things like ‘she did not seem to be unusually intelligent, but her beauty made up for that,’ and ‘”Have you ever tried to reason with a woman?” she demanded challengingly.’ Oh, and my personal favourite – where Norton can see up her skirt as she attempts to ride a giant snake and then becomes disappointed when she manages to cover herself, despite noting how embarrassed she had been. It doesn’t form a huge part of the plot, but minor instances are fairly common.
I do recommend this series, at least so far. I’ve already ordered the third book, With A Tangled Skein, which follows the Fates. It seems that the main character is a woman, which might help with my complaint immediately above. It’s an enjoyable, light series that’s right up my alley as far as theme goes – perfect for a rainy Bank Holiday weekend.
It’s apparently super difficult to find online reviews of this series, but Goodreads have a plethora of reviews, as always.