On a Pale Horse by Piers Anthony
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The first time I read this book was during high school. At the time I really enjoyed it and went on the read the rest of Anthony's "Incarnations of Immortality" series and I have been a fan of that series ever since.
That was half a lifetime ago, and as the oldest of my children is rapidly approaching her own adolescence I find myself revisiting the literary highlights of my youth in order to provide her with suggestions for her own library.
On a Pale Horse explores some interesting viewpoints on life, death, and the nature of progresstion from one the former to the latter. It does so with a fun adventure, full of vibrant characters and a few moments of tongue-in-cheek satire. It does all this in a rather adolescent, heavy-handed sense of humor and a decidedly "naughty teenage boy" approach to romance and sexuality.
I liked the idea that good and evil are completely separate from wrong and right. And that much of the burden on the soul is put their because of the guilt a person takes on after doing what is right.
The mechanics of the world are interesting, and even though the author presents the ethical dilemma's of the characters a bit ham-fistedly, the overall product is enjoyable, and mostly appropriate for teenage readers, while being naughty enough to remain interesting in a "forbidden fruit" sort of way. His metaphor for cognition using the matchsticks seems a bit jarring throughout the book, and feels like it was forced in there after the fact to explain actions that really didn't need it.
I remember an interview with R. A. Salvatore in which he states (and I'm paraphrasing here) that he wasn't writing books to address all the subtle questions of right and wrong that we face in adulthood, but that his books are to address the bigger ideas that we try to grasp in our youth, and in such a way as to be understandable and interesting to someone of that age group. Anthony accomplishes this here, and my 14-year-old self would probably give On a Pale Horse a full five stars. My married, child-raising, adult self looks at the interactions and says, "Nobody acts like that".
I assign personalities based on the books of theirs I have read. I think Neal Stephenson would probably be condescending but also cool enough about it to be fun to hang out with. Patrick Rothfuss would be great to hang out with, but he's probably too busy today. Piers Anthony comes off as kind of pompous in a way that follows the artiste stereotype. Not that I've ever met the guy, but when his author's note is fully a tenth the size of the book, it comes off as a little full of one's self.
Overall, a good book for the right reader. And a fun series to revisit. Looking forward to joining up with Father Time in book 2.
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