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Discworld: Soul Music

The 16th Discworld novel, and third in the Death theme: much more a sequel to the first Death book, Mort, than the second, Reaper Man.

There are two interconnected plots: in the first, the deaths of Mort and Ysabell in a car(t) crash cause another case of Death Takes a Holiday after a Heroic BSOD, leading to his "granddaughter" (Mort and Ysabell's daughter) Susan taking over The Duty, and incidentally becoming one of Disc fandom's favourite characters. She only met her grandfather once or twice as a young child, and afterwards was raised by her parents to take a very cold and rational view of things, which is not much of a survival trait on the Disc.

In the second, young Llamedosian musician Imp y Celyn comes to Ankh-Morpork to make his fortune and winds up becoming a musical sensation when he inadvertently invents the Discworld's equivalent of Rock & Roll.

Unfortunately for the young "Musics With Rocks In" Star, supernatural forces have conspired that he should live fast... and die young. Can Susan fight fate and save his life?

Was made (along with Wyrd Sisters) into an Animated Adaptation. The L-space entry is here, and explains the numerous sly references to famous bands and songs. A fan-created expanded version is here and picks up the slack since the official annotated Pratchett file has not been updated for six years.

This novel's title is a pune, or play on words, on (of course) the kind of African-American music that arose in the '50s and '60s and enjoys a bizarrely high level of popularity in Britain today. According to certain Australian fans, the inspiration for the book came during Pratchett's visit to Australia, when, upon discovering that Pratchett had never seen The Blues Brothers, the fans promptly "abducted" him and took him to a midnight screening of the film.

Preceded by Men at Arms, followed by Interesting Times. Preceded in the Death series by Reaper Man, followed by Hogfather.


Soul Music provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: Death's scythe. (Which is temporarily converted to Death's guitar pick.)
  • Adapted Out: Vetinari, who has a small role in the book, does not appear in the Animated Adaptation. A few more minor characters are also dropped.
  • Answer Song: In the Animated Adaptation, the song "She Won't Change Her Mind" is an answer to The Beatles song "You're Going to Lose That Girl"
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
    "[Music With Rocks in It] made you want to kick down walls and ascend the sky on steps of fire. It made you want to pull all the switches and throw all the levers and stick your fingers in the electric socket of the Universe to see what happened next. It made you want to paint your bedroom wall black and cover it with posters."
  • Ass Kicks You: Asphalt the troll got so short and squat because the circus elephants he used to tend kept sitting on him.
  • Bewitched Amphibians: The music shop keeper threatens to invoke this trope on Glod and Cliff because she belongs to the Neighborhood Witch scheme.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Imp y Celyn is Welsh for "Bud of the Holly". And if you haven't got it yet, don't translate the middle bit. His first song was called "Sioni Bod Da". "Bod Da" is Welsh again for "be good" (Johnny B. Goode).
    • Made all the better that the entire end of the book is an allusion to the song American Pie, which was about Buddy Holly's death.
  • Blinding Bangs: Skazz, wizard student.
  • Brick Joke: The one thing the men in the Klatchian Foreign Legion can remember is sand, because it's all around them. When the Death of Rats tries to sense where Death has wandered off to, the one memory of his that it can tune into is also sand.
  • Bus Crash: The death of Mort and Ysabell, the lead characters of Mort. It's handled relatively well for the standards of the trope, but still it can feel rather brutal.
    • It provides the major emotional underpinning of the story, which is about Death actually experiencing bereavement first-hand.
      • It also shows the amazing amount of character development Death has undergone since we first met him in The Colour of Magic. Some of the interplay between him and Susan as they both work their way through their grief is downright heartwrenching.
  • Call Back: One of the assassins sent to kill Imp and co. says that a troll can be killed by a strike to 'a little spot at the back of the neck'. This is how Rincewind (accidentally) killed a troll in The Colour of Magic?
    • When talking about the times a pocket full of decent spells and a well-charged staff got him out of trouble, the Archchancellor mentions "that dragon, you remember" which may refer to the dragon in Guards! Guards!! It's also a continuity error as Ridcully wasn't around at that point.
  • Canis Latinicus: The Animated Adaptation shows Ridcully performing the Rite of Ashkente on camera and invents ritual words of this type for it.
  • Composite Character: In the Animated Adaptation, the three wizard students helping Ponder are combined into one single student who gets their combined lines, the appearance of Skazz and the name of "Big Mad Drongo" Adrian Turnipseed. This is the basis for a joke where Ridcully, upon first meeting Big Mad Drongo, angrily demands "Who let a student into my University?!" before changing his mind and decinding "I suppose one student won't be too much of a problem."
  • Continuity Nod: When Susan goes back to Death's house as it was in Mort, she notes that the golden harvest fields around it vanish, as Death created those in Reaper Man between the two books.
  • Cool Shades: Cliff wears them. In the Animated Adaptation he never takes them off.
  • Creative Sterility: This is how Death beats the Music at the end — it's previously been established that he has no grasp of music despite trying to play the banjo and organ, and now it's explained why: since he's Death, the only chord he can play is the one that is the musical equivalent of mathematical zero, the 'empty chord' that will bring the whole rhythm of the universe to an end unless the Music revives Buddy to play on.
    • Susan herself admits she's not very musical when speaking with a Valkyrie, suggesting she may have inherited a bit of this trait. Which explains why nobody suggested she play the guitar to avert the universe's end.
  • Dead Artists Are Better: The Music's view of things.
    You will live forever. They will say you never died.
  • Deaf Composer: Averted, as being deaf doesn't make them unable to hear the music, just the distractions.
  • Department of Redundancy Department:
    "mumblemumbledon'tseewhymumble," mumbled the Dean
  • Deus Exit Machina: Death. It doesn't take long for the story to resolve itself once he's done soul-searching.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Buddy's behaviour when the Music takes him over is a lot like a musician on drugs.
  • Dumb and Drummer: Averted with Cliff, who's not too stupid, and played straight with Scum.
  • Dreadful Musician / Garage Band: Crash, Noddy, Jimbo and Scum and their everchanging band names.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: We see Ponder and Adrian working on the early prototype of what will become the Magical Computer Hex in the next book, Interesting Times. It uses a small version of the stone circle computers seen in The Light Fantastic and also ants, as seen in later books ("it may work, if we can get all the bugs into it").
    • Cliff and Glod make a brief mention of a Golem called Dorfl. With an early Title Drop, too!
  • Ear Worm: The Music With Rock In isn't just addictive, it's contagious.invoked
  • Elvish Presley: A recurring gag for Buddy.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Satchelmouth, a Musicians' Guild enforcer, has done the finger foxtrot and the skull fandango, but is repelled by the idea of actually killing someone. At least, on purpose.
  • Everyone Calls Him Barkeep / His Name Really Is Barkeep: Colon and Nobby debate which of these applies to Death when they argue over whether he has a first name.
  • Exact Words: Imp's carelessness with verb tense was just asking for trouble:
    "One day soon everyone will say I was the greatest musician in the world!"
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Llamedos is Wales turned up to the extreme. ("It has rain mines!")
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Subtle enough that it's easy to miss. But asides early in the text talk about the Listening Monks, who have discerned what the words spoken by the Creator were just before he made the universe — "One, Two, One Two Three Four..." —, which might appear to be just a thematic gag to go with the musical theme, save for the fact that Buddy's guitar has a single stroke of chalk on it. A single stroke, when every other musical instrument in the shop has a number on it, the order in which they were acquired...
    • Meta example: Proposing places to send The Band on future tours, Dibbler lists the Counterweight Continent, saying that "they're talking about discovering it again real soon now". The next Discworld novel, Interesting Times, takes place there.
    • The first version of the studs/sequins on the Dean's leather jacket spell out the misspelt phrase "Live Fats Die Yognu". Written around properly, this becomes "Live Fast Die Young" — which is not only an actual trope associated with rock and roll stars, but also exactly what the Guitar intends to happen to Buddy in order to cement him as the greatest musician in the world.
  • Free Wheel: Lampshaded in the description of the crash that kills Susan's parents.
    Then the oil from the coach lamps ignites and there is a second explosion, out of which rolls — because there are certain conventions, even in tragedy — a burning wheel.
  • Genre Savvy: The Librarian quits the band the moment Dibbler gets involved.
    • Glod is too savvy to be fooled by UU students into calling the Librarian the M-word. He turns it around on them.
  • Getting CrÍpe Past The Radar:
    • This scene:
    Asphalt: 'N elphant sat on me.
    Glod: {blowing his nose at Asphalt's smell} Only sat?
    • In the Animated Adaptation, during the Quirm concert, a female fan flashes the band, and her nipples are quite clearly visible.
    • Also the wizards' blue suede shoes: "Modo says they're crÍpe."
  • Great Balls of Fire: A wannabe Music With Rocks In star known as Crash tries to form a band with his friends, but one of their many problems is that Crash is more concerned with style over substance. This compounds their other major problem, which is the fact that they stink on ice.
  • The Grim Reaper: Naturally.
  • Groin Attack: Binky has good aim with a kick, which is why he isn't stolen when Susan leaves him in an Ankh-Morpork alley.
  • Groupie Brigade: Acknowledged. Glod worries if the crowd will tear off Buddy's clothes.
  • Hell-Bent for Leather: The Dean gets a leather jacket with "Born To Rune" on the back. (No, he doesn't know what it means either, it just seemed appropriate.) It comes back in some later books, usually when the Wizards are going to war against something major.
  • iSophagus: Mentioned. Some kid with a penny-whistle played without the Guild's consent. He now plays a scale every time he hiccups.
  • It Tastes Like Feet: Ridcully says that Crash's attempt at playing an electric guitar sounds exactly like a cat taking a crap with a sewn-up bum, much to Ponder's alarm.
  • Lamarck Was Right: Susan has several of Death's abilities, such as the ability to become invisible; despite the fact that she is only Death's granddaughter by adoption, and some of those abilities shouldn't be inheritable anyway. Death points out that this is probably the result of morphic resonance rather than heredity.
  • Legion of Lost Souls: The Klatchian Foreign Legion.
  • Literal-Minded: The Archchancellor doesn't understand the phrase "to kick some righteous ass" and wonders where he can find a donkey.
  • The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday: A musical-themed version of the same type seen in The Light Fantastic.
  • Magical Computer and Magitek: We get our first glimpse of what will, in later books, become Hex.
  • Medieval Stasis: This is the last book to really use the plot that an alien element threatens to break the Disc's stasis but is then subject to Reset Button. Notably the Patrician mentions it in The Truth in a rare case of being Wrong Genre Savvy.
  • Mood Whiplash: The same page with a funny moment involving Glod and the band's FIVE THOUSAND Dmmfmmf leads into the spirit of Music making the final parallel between Buddy and real rockstars: Live Fast, Die Young.
  • My Little Phony: Susan gets a "My Little Binky" toy for her third birthday from her grandfather, modeled after his pale horse, Binky. His parents return it, fearing that it will make her a less "normal" child.
  • Noodle Implements: "If you blow that, you'd better have a sacrificial virgin and a big cauldron of breadfruit and turtle meat standing by."
  • Noodle Incident: "The Unfortunate Incident At Dinner" that resulted in the Bursar of UU being provided wooden eating utensils instead of metal ones.
  • Only Sane Man: Ridcully and Ponder are the only ones of the wizards not affected by the Music. He is happy to find Susan.
    • For the Band with Rocks in, Glod is by far the one with the most common sense... not that this is saying a whole lot.
  • The Pete Best: Some of the characters say that this will be the fate of the Librarian, who plays the piano with the Band for one gig before quitting.
  • Picked Last: Susan is always picked last despite her very patiently telling everyone what a great player she is and how much sense it would make for them to pick her (and actually being right) and how stupid they're being. She can't quite figure out why they don't catch on.
  • The Power of Rock: Of course.
  • Prophetic Names: Buddy, who, like his Roundworld namesake, lives fast, creates rock and roll, and dies young.
  • Rockers Smash Guitars: Noddy smashes his guitar on Scum. This is the only moment in their careers when any aspect of their performance wins the approval of an audience.
    • Death, of course, smashes the guitar at the end. While he can't actually play music on it, he does strike a very rocker-like pose before playing the "empty chord".
  • Saving The World With Art: Inverted when Death plays the "empty chord" that sets the end of the universe in motion. Then played straight when the Music spares Imp so he can play the chord that started the universe again, preserving it.
  • Sdrawkcab Name: Llamedos is a reference to Llarregub from Under Milk Wood — Sod-'em-all and Bugger-all backwards respectively.
  • Shaped Like Itself: "You can't see the infinite. 'Cos it's infinite."
  • Shout-Out / Hurricane of Puns:
    • As with Moving Pictures, an enormous number, particularly band names We're Certainly Dwarfs for They Might Be Giants, Insanity for Madness, Surreptitious Fabric for the Velvet Underground, The Whom for The Who, Suck for KISS, Lead Balloon for Led Zeppelin, &U for U2, and so on. One band in particular goes through about a half dozen of these, and on one occasion a member buys for the group a leopard with hearing problems... They also miss one of the greatest potential band names of all time, when a member mentions that "a rolling stone gathers no moss".
    • Buddy's group is often referred to as The Band, and its troll member takes the stage name Cliff.
    • "He can't stop us. We're on a mission from Glod."
      • Another Blues Bros. Reference is mixed with an A Night at the Opera Shout-Out at the diner scene: Glod continually orders "four fried rats," and Cliff is insisting that he would like some Coke. Imp adds a slice of dwarf bread, and eventually throws in "a hard-boiled egg."
      • When Glod and Cliff go to the music shop: "Are you the Watch?" "No, ma'am. We're musicians."
      • And there's one more when Mr. Clete is at the festival. "There's a hot dog seller over there. Anyone else fancy a hot dog? Hot dog? Hot dog? Right, that's three hot d-"
    • In the Animated Adaptation, Buddy manages to hit the Berserk Button of the entire city of Quirm (Fantasy Counterpart Culture of France) by saying "We're more popular than cheeses."
    • The dwarves and trolls don't get along, but they share a tradition of hole music.
    • And then there's the Dean's pants, which will not be named after the Archchancellor...
    • Speaking of the Dean's clothing, there's an incredibly subtle but allegedly deliberate Shout-Out when Death asks to borrow his coat. Or, to put it another way, it's "A coat he borrowed from [the] Dean". And he 'borrows' it by striding in and informing him "I need your clothes." And the coat itself reads Born to Rune.
    • Pterry even managed to Shout-Out to Looney Tunes and The Far Side! One of the wizards reads books of cartoons of cows and dogs....
    • The grateful Death.
    • At one point, the Dean was referred to as a "rebel without a pause".
    • Once the guitar maker discovers that his guitars are selling like hotcakes, he orders his assistant to hire a troll as a guard, and to make sure that no one comes into his store to try to play "Pathway to Paradise". Not only did Pratchett give a shout out to "Stairway to Heaven", he even brought up the fact that it's the number 1 song that non-musical people will try to play when they enter a guitar store.
    • "You can't break somebody's wall down just to make music!" - it don't need no education to see what this alludes to.
    • The Bilingual Bonus points out that Imp y Celyn, AKA Buddy Celyn = Buddy Holly.
    • At the very start it's mentioned that if the Gods want to destroy someone, they hand him "the equivalent of a stick with a fizzing fuse and Acme Dynamite Company written on the side."
    • Susan is mentioned to have gotted a My Little Binky set on her third birthday.
    • The music shop owner warns Glod not to try out a flute, or they'll be "knee deep in rats". Presumably, it's the one used by (the Disc's equivalent of) The Pied Piper of Hamelin.
    • The Librarian is playing Barbarian Invaders.
    • A small dog stops to listen to one of Dibbler's sound-capture boxes, in reference to the dog-and-gramophone painting "His Master's Voice", from which British media-outlet HMV gets its name and logo.
    • According to Glod, the legendary Brother Charnel stole gold from the gods to make a magical trumpet, which means the world's greatest horn player was a felonious monk. (That one borders on a stealth feghoot.)
    • The opening says this is a book about sex, drugs, and Music With Rocks In—then adds "one out of three ain't bad," as a shout out to Meatloaf, who also receives a shout out to the Bat Out Of Hell album on the cover.
    • Because a book called Soul Music ought to have at least one genuine Soul Music reference, Susan — as in Sam Cooke's "Wonderful World" — don't know much about history.
    • Susan shows an assassin his hourglass and tells him " This is your life.", which is the title of a biographical TV documentary series.
    • Dead Man's Curve is, itself, a song title from 1964.
    • Crawling out of the stage's wreckage, Crash and his pals drop a reference to the "This Is Your Brain On Drugs" PSA.
    • Musician's Guild enforcer Satchelmouth Lemon (the last name evokes Blind Lemon Jefferson as well)
    • The description of the swing Death made for Susan resembles the original "tree swing" cartoon, first published in the 1973 newsletter for the University of London Computer Centre.
    • Quoth, the Raven, who refuses to say the N-word.
  • Soul Jar: Albert's hourglass/beer bottle.
  • Stealth Pun:
  • Sting: The raven tries to verbally invoke this trope when revealing to Susan that her grandfather is (Dah-dah-dah-DAH!) Death, but the Death of Rats keeps interrupting.
  • Sufficiently Analyzed Magic: The Rite of Ashkente, which in previous books was mentioned to have been refined through research to no longer needing a living sacrifice but only 3 bits of wood and 4 cc of mouse blood, has now been refined even further so Ridcully can do it with 2 bits of wood and an egg. "It has to be a fresh egg, though".
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: While the wizards are discussing potential places to look at with a crystal ball:
    Senior Wrangler: How about the Skunk Club in Brewer Street?
    Bursar: Why?
    Senior Wrangler: Just a thought. I've never been in there at all in any way, you understand.
  • Troll Resources: Lias/Cliff pays most of the Band's expenses by knocking out and trading away his own diamond teeth (another Shout-Out: shine on, you crazy diamond....)
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: At one point, Dibbler is standing outside the Cavern, thinking of how to make profit out of the free concert. Up comes Susan, in full regalia, scythe and horse, and asks him how to get in. He says quickly that all the tickets are sold out. Susan, then, walks through a wall, while Dibbler calculates. It earns no more thought from him than a passing "... where's she gone, then?" And again, somebody breaks through a Wall in the service of Music....
  • Valkyries: Susan meets several while reaping a field of slain warriors.
  • Welcome to the Big City: As buskers do, Imp puts a few coins in his bowl as "seed money". The next time he looks down, the bowl's gone.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The fate of Glod, Cliff and Asphalt is left even more ambiguous than that of Imp.
  • World of Pun: For example:
    • Quoth the Raven, on why he wanted to come to a battlefield: "Carrion regardless"
    • The Archchancellor calling music "a world of hertz".
  • Xtreme Kool Letterz: A troll band calls itself "Trolls". Dibbler tells them to spell it with a Z.
  • You Cannot Kill An Idea: At the end, after Death has smashed the guitar:
    Somewhere, in some other world far away from the Discworld, someone tentatively picked up a musical instrument that echoed to the rhythm in their soul.
    It will never die.
    It's here to stay.

Sophie's WorldLiterature of the 1990sSouth of the Border, West of the Sun
Men at ArmsLiterature/DiscworldInteresting Times
An Equal MusicMusic StoriesSpider Kiss
Murder, Inc.ImageSource/LiteratureRule of Cool

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