On A Pale Horse by Piers Anthony

Zane is a kind of generic guy, who has been plagued with problems of gambling, greed, and guilt. Finally deciding to end it, he aims a gun at his head – But at the last second, Death walks in and he turns the gun on him, shooting Death in the head. Now Zane is the new Death, bumbling along and trying to get ahold of his new role. Breaking rules as he goes, he comes across Satan’s evil plot to kill the woman Zane loves, before her time. Can Zane outwit the Prince of Darkness?

That’s the basic premise of the book. Throughout, we learn more about Zane and learn that he’s a pretty good guy. After becoming Death, he meets and falls in love with Luna – who morality wise is the female equivalent of Zane. We also get cool glimpses into the future that Piers Anthony has concocted – flying carpets are a popular mode of transportation, and magic is finally on an even footing with science in terms of respectability and usefulness.

Most of the book is given to Zane’s philosophical dilemmas, as he tries to deal with his new job. Is death good or bad? Why do people die before their time? Why are some infants born with sin on their souls? Should people be kept alive against their will? Etcetra… Honestly, it’s like the author wanted to discuss all of this, but instead of trying to write a non-fiction book or memoir or something, he decided to mask it with a story and sell it as a sci-fi novel. Not that it wasn’t all interesting, but the focus was on all of these moral dilemmas, not on the story. It made it hard to really connect with Zane or Luna.

Overall, this was an interesting read. I especially liked this quote:

“I knew the doctors would never let her die in peace; It was part of their code to make a patient suffer as long as humanly possible.”

Pretty much sums up how I feel about doctors and the medicial system in general these days. People are kept alive just for the sake of being alive – even when the quality of life is diminished, and the patient might even be ready to die. I liked how Zane’s compassion as Death worked both ways – he tried to save people from dying before their time, but he also tried to bring quick and painless death for those who should have died long ago.

 I’m not sure I like this book enough to read the other books in this “Incarncations of Immortality” series. But it definitely gave a lot of food for thought. Plus, I liked Mortis (Death’s pale horse).

Sarah Says: 3 stars



  1. I read Piers Anthony’s Incarncations of Immortality back in high school – the details are now all fuzzy, but i remember liking the book about the priest who becomes the devil the best (can’t remember the title though).


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