Customer Reviews: On a Pale Horse (Incarnations of Immortality, Bk. 1)
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on December 13, 2000
This is the first Piers Anthony book I ever read, and I read it for all the wrong reasons. I read it because the title intrigued me. I read it because it had a really cool cover. I was young and still judged many books on that basis. Fortunately, I hit the jackpot with this one.
I give this book five stars because it earned each and every one of them. I can be stingy with my stars at times, but I wonder if five is enough for this one. On A Pale Horse is book 1 of the Incarnations of Immortality, but don't be intimidated by the prospect of buying all the others because this one's a heavyweight all by its lonesome (it's the only one I've personally read so far). The main character is Zane, who is forced to take over the position of Death when he accidentally shoots and kills the previous Death (who had the misfortune of barging in a bit prematurely during Zane's suicide attempt). This sounds a little wacky, and it is, but wonderfully so.
From there, the book continues to tell the story of Zane as he learns the ropes of Reaping. The main plot involves Satan trying to lure Death into a scheme that involves him killing this girl he's come to love. The whole idea of Satan vs. Death is very cool, and is worth the price of the book alone. However, said plot, while awesome, was not my favorite part of the book because there's just so much dang cool stuf in here! For one thing, the book is hilarious, while several humorous moments in which Zane finds that Reaping isn't as easy as it looks. There's also a wonderful world Anthony has created that blends science and magic. And one thing that Anthony pulls off that few can is to, among a book filled with both laughs and adventure, weave in some deeply profound philosophical perspectives (on Death, of course).
This book just had it all, and it had some very unique ideas about Death and salvation. One thing I must say, though(and I hate having to say it, but I have to because there are some really stupid people out there) is that this is a work of fiction. I am a Christian and realize that some of the ideas presented in this book are at odds with my own personal beliefs, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy and appreciate the originality and creativity of them. In other words, for all you "muggles" out there, Piers isn't trying to convert anybody to his way of thinking. He just wants to give us a good book and he does. As for those of you who may disagree with me, I say this: if you are really afraid that reading things like this will actually cause you to change your deepest beliefs, it's high time you took a look inside yourself and determine just how deep your belief is in the first place. Your beliefs should come from within yourself, not the most recent thing you've read.
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on June 11, 2006
"On A Pale Horse" begins the "Incarnations of Immortality" series as an immature Zane seeks to improve his dismal life in a world filled with a curious blend of magic, religion, and science. Rudimentary character growth and environmental imagery laced among stereotypical behavior of mostly chauvinistic male and scatterbrained female figures cater to the young reader with the typical vocabulary in most fast-paced Piers Anthony storyline. Regrettably an ominous intensity and the dreadful powers of Death could have created a genuinely classic novel.

Zane must deal with the difficulties of a new job as he maintains a personal life. The novel introduces a gripping view of the Grim Reaper, since death can be a fearsome and at times welcome aspect in life. Death has the proverbial scythe and Deathsteed (which has a science influence as well), along with the duty of collecting souls to be possibly in part judged by him for final destination. A brief introduction to the other major Incarnations, featured in following tales of the series, include Time, Fate, War, Nature, Evil, and Good.

Although the novel handles the Incarnation of Death, the eternal battle between Heaven and Hell exposes little concerning Hell and naught about Heaven to the reader. While long-winded logical conclusions govern most of the fast dialogue between characters, the author conducts the space/time continuum paradox in a masterly fashion.

I recommend this series to any fan of the fantasy genre. However those of a highly inflexible religious background or intolerant attitude towards religion might want to avoid the selection.

Thank you.
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on April 26, 2005
"On a Pale Horse" is the first novel in the Incarnations of Immortality series, which describes the adventures of ordinary people cast into the personified roles of death, time, fate, nature, war, evil, and good. The seven books of the series vary in quality, but the highly imaginitive fictional universe and the intricate twining of the story, with the complete plot of each book coalescing into a single overstory, make the series a stimulating read. This first book is the most self-contained, however, and can be enjoyed fully without committing to the following six.

Zane is a desperate young man. Lonely, poor, and distressed, he seeks refuge from his mistakes in death. But when he tries to kill himself he ends up murdering Death instead and is forced to assume his office, collecting the souls of other mortals who die with no strong orientation to good or evil. His office - killing people and sending them to Heaven or Hell - disturbs him at first, but he begins to realize that death is a necessary part of life and that he can ease his clients' passage. In the course of his duties, he meets and falls in love with a young woman, Luna, who he learns is instrumental to foiling a plot masterminded by Satan (the incarnation of evil). To save the woman he loves - and also the world as he knows it - he must harness the full power of his office.

"On a Pale Horse" is an absorbing novel, structured for easy reading and an engrossing plot. It offers a slick, smart alternative reality and an interesting (quasi-religious) perspective on ideas such as good, evil, and death. However, the book's opening chapters are far less readable and interesting than its bulk, and the shallow writing and callow protagonist are frustrating throughout. The final chapters are exciting but uninspiring; although the author is clearly capable of writing a powerful novel he has chosen to write a fun one instead; "On a Pale Horse" is not a great book, but it is a great read.
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on November 27, 2000
I read the first Xanth book (A Spell for Chameleon.) I picked up the second one (The Source of Magic) and got frustrated with it. The subject matter of the Xanth series only reaches so far as to cater to the 11-15 age range. Once you get beyond that, or at least for me, it becomes a little childish.
This book, however, was wonderfully mind stimulating. It probably would classify as a sci-fi book, which accounts for the futuristic Earth setting, but Anthony draws on his fantasy expertise to add flavor and gusto to this novel. It really is in a league of its own. I haven't even heard of a book or series that portrays the Incarnations (Death, Fate, Time, etc.) in such a special way, let alone have them as characters. The main reason I picked this book up in the first place was because of its unusual cover portraying Death in a yellow car (which we later learn is his Death Steed named Mortis.)
The story itself is riviting, drawing on many of the author's own feelings and thoughts to create an allegory (a work that can be read on two levels, in a literal way and then usually a deeper, more thought out way.) It has great action (sword fights, or actually scythe fights, damsels in destress, magicians, ect.) But what really got me was, the arch enemy of Death, the protagonist who is actually a human who assumed the post of Death after killing the previous Death, is Satan himself! What better foe could there be?
On a Pale Horse is a truly uncommon and unique book. It is fast paced and extremely interesting. I am looking forward to reading the rest of the series.
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on January 4, 2001
Piers Anthony is, in my opinion, one of the most talented authors in the sci-fi/fantasy genre that I have ever read. Simply the idea of the Incarnations of Immortality being run by mortals, and their trials and tribulations of those people make for a wonderful story that one cannot stop reading.
I must give you a fair warning though: This book begins a plot that doesnt end for another six books. If you are an avid reader and can't put a book down, I would suggest you don't start reading I could not force myself to stop. I found myself going from store to store buying the rest of the series and reading them all within a 3 month period.
If you like this genre, you WILL like this book. I hope everyone else enjoys this book as much as I did.
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on June 3, 2005
Piers Anthony's problem is that he's very good at coming up with ideas but isn't actually a very good writer. Nowhere is it more obvious than in the Incarnations series, of which this is the first volume.

In On a Pale Horse, a down-and-out loser named Zane attempts to commit suicide, but upon seeing the spectre of Death approaching kills him instead. He who kills the Incarnation of Death becomes his successor, and Zane is cast adrift into a metaphysical storm as he struggles to both learn his new responsibilities and prevent a takeover of his job by Satan, the Incarnation of Evil.

This is a terrific, fascinating premise, totally let down by juvenile characterization, overreliance on sexual innuendo and lousy jokes, and Anthony's unfortunate tendency to shoehorn whatever he's currently reading into whatever he's currently working on (in this case, a theory of patterns of thought that's completely out of place).

This would be survivable (just like the Adept books rose above the writing style) except for one thing. Anthony just does not understand what makes two people fall in love, and considering that this book centers around a love story it qualifies as a fatal flaw. There is no earthly reason these two characters should fall in love; they go directly from being near-strangers to being willing to die for one another.

The ideas in the book are much better than their realization, and in any case it's still quite entertaining and worth the read. I'd stop here, though ... the next two books are mostly dreary with a few good parts, and the sixth book is excellent, but the rest of them are just intolerable.
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VINE VOICEon October 19, 2001
. . .is portrayed in this book.
Piers Anthony, beloved author of the tremendously popular "Xanth" novels, does something entirely different in this series.
What if, just what if, magic was recognized and quantified as one of the forces of nature?
What if, Death, Time, Fate, War, Nature, etc. could be identified as particular people set aside for (temporary) immortality to fulfull the necessary tasks the world needs to function?
With these sorts of questions, this series "Incarnations of Immortality" begins. And this first volume "On a Pale Horse", dealing with the character of Death, is arguably the best in the series.
Below the surface of a brilliantly conceived fantasy novel, Anthony asks serious questions about good, evil, heaven, hell, and the role free-will plays in our lives. He does not, however, provide answers. The depiction of this fantasy universe is seemingly dualistic in nature. Will good win?
Believe it or not, this novel should be required reading in seminary -- because every minister, regardless of denomination, will be faced with trying to provide reasonable answers to difficult questions. Again, while this novel (and those that follow) do NOT provide the answers, they nevertheless frame the questions in unique manners. The reader will certainly gain a new perspective.
Highly recommended.
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on January 6, 2016
As Piers Anthony is one of my favorite authors from my formative years, and as Amazon does not allow half-stars, I'm being generous by rounding up this 3.5-star book to 4 stars.

Overall, this is a fun exploration of an alternate Earth where magic and science coexist in equal parts. One of the side effects of the magic is the existence of the incarnations of Death, Time, Fate, War, Nature, Good, and Evil, each of which are offices held by a succession of previously mortal folks.

This is a fun conceit, and well-handled by Anthony. It was especially enjoyable when I first read it as a 13-year-old in the mid-80s. Zane, the new officeholder of Death, is a likable sort, if not particularly bright, and the book follows him as he encounters the other incarnations and ultimately foils Satan's nefarious plans.

The book isn't without its flaws. Dialogue is clunky. Anthony's well-known propensity to focus on female physiques is abundant (and was likely a selling point at 13). The odd matchsticks metaphor repeatedly revisited doesn't compute.

That said, it's a good example of what would now likely be cataloged as YA fantasy. It's a fine beginning of a septology that I thoroughly enjoyed (excepting volume 2). It's original and well-written, with one of his signature verbose author's notes, which I always loved and have a special resonance now in light of the This American Life episode that featured what an avid fan did with the information included in them.
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on May 14, 1999
Piers Anthony is one of the most prolific authors of our time and he knows how to do it right every time. From the Xanth series (VERY punny), to the Apprentice Adept books to the Incarnations of Immortality series of which this is one, he continually comes up with fresh, original storylines and great characters. This book is (marginally) my favorite of all of his works, as I don't think I have ever seen the Grim Reaper portrayed more sympathetically or with more humor. What makes this book even more attractive is that it's a VERY easy read. The story just carries you along to the end and you just don't want to put it down. No big words, no extremely complex concepts to comprehend (wow! Alliteration!), just a good old-fashioned read. Most of the books that I read nowadays are very rich in prose and dialogue and plot and words that you have to look up in the dictionary. Piers doesn't inflict that on you, he just tells it like it is and with style. I like that. Makes a good break from my usual reading. I'm sure it will for you, too. Read it, it's good!
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on March 31, 2006
This is my first go through with the Incarnations novels, so I'm a virgin to them. However, I have read a decent chunk of Anthony's other writing: a large selection of the Xanth novels, the "horror" novel "Shade of the Tree", the adaptation of "Total Recall", and his (second) autobiography, "How Precious Was That While", so I feel marginally able to review this novel in the broader context of his work.

Not all of his work "sounds like" the Xanth novels - "Total Recall" and "Shade of the Tree" were not at all Xanth-esque in their voice. That said, the style of "On a Pale Horse" is definitely similar to Anthony's Xanth work. There is sort of a twisted innocence about this style: childlike, yet definitely tainted with sexual and violent overtones; one gets the impression that Anthony could be a Freudian. There is also a great deal of the author's own personal tastes and opinions peppered through the book, which would probably be pretty clear to even a first-time reader - however, having read his autobiography, I can certainly identify his personality in the text more clearly.

The character of Zane also brings Xanth to mind - he reads a lot like a corrupted Bink, from "A Spell for Chamelon". There is something bland and naive about Anthony's male characters - interestingly, his female characters tend to have more depth and color. An earlier reviews raged about the author being "misogynistic", and "always" portraying women as being sex objects and of inferior intelligence. I have to disagree totally - some of Anthony's deepest, most intelligent (and aggressive) characters are female.

Certainly the character of Luna in this novel is one of them - as bright, morally conscious, and spunky as any of his female characters that I have encountered. I will allow that Anthony can seem to be an arrogant, egomaniac with some archaic and offensive ideas (and doesn't really care if people think that, by the way) - and he does indeed recognize women (and men) as sexual creatures, which is never far divorced from their intellect or other attributes. But, let's be fair - human beings are sexual creatures. One might argue that the author is over-emphasizing this, but that doesn't make it any less true, and it certainly is the author's right to exaggerate things to suit his purpose. It's also the reader's right to disagree, and not read the work - but that doesn't make it trash.

In fact, I think this is a remarkable work of fiction - thoughtful in it's presentation, and very stimulating intellectually. I may not agree with Anthony the man, but he certainly uses literature as an excellent vehicle for the exploration of weighty and relevent concepts here. I strongly disagree with the same earlier reviewer, when he encourages us to keep these books from our children. I, for one, would gladly have my son read these books. Indeed, ideas are the most dangerous things in the world - yet they are also the most affirming and creative things as well; ideas are the spring from which all humanity arises. Whether I agree with an author and his creation, or not, I greatly value literature that makes me think - to avoid ideas simply because they might be dangerous is at best to invite those ideas to come back unconsidered, and unprepared for. At worst it is to court ignorance. I applaud Piers Anthony, in all his arrogant, ego-maniacal misogyny for giving me and my child something of depth and weight to think and talk about.
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