On a Pale Horse (Incarnations of Immortality #1)

On a Pale Horse (Incarnations of Immortality #1)

by Piers Anthony

Paperback(Mass Market Paperback - Reprint)

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In this first novel of the Incarnations of Immortality, Piers Anthony combines a gripping story of romance and conflicting loyalties with a deeply moving examination of the meaning of life and death. This is a novel that will long linger in the reader's mind. 

Shooting Death was a mistake, as Zane soon discovered. For the man who killed the Incarnation of Death was immediately forced to assume the vacant position! Thereafter, he must speed over the world, riding his pale horse, and ending the lives of others. 

Zane was forced to accept his unwelcome task, despite the rules that seemed woefully unfair. But then he found himself being drawn into an evil plot of Satan. Already the prince of Evil was forging a trap in which Zane must act to destroy Luna, the woman he loved.

He could see only one possible way to defeat the Father of Lies. It was unthinkable—but he had no other solution!

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345338587
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/28/1986
Series: Incarnations of Immortality Series , #1
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 65,887
Product dimensions: 6.74(w) x 10.98(h) x 0.91(d)
Lexile: 780L (what's this?)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Piers Anthony, sometimes called Pier Xanthony, is the pseudonym of a Mundane character who was born in England in 1934, came to America in 1940, was naturalized in 1958, and moved to Xanth in 1977. His first story was published in 1963, and his first novel, Chthon, in 1967. His first Xanth novel, A Spell for Chameleon, won the August Derleth Fantasy Award as the best novel for 1977, and his fantasy novels began placing on the New York Times bestseller list with Ogre, Ogre. He shifted from writing in pencil to writing on the computer, and Golem in the Gears was his first novel created on the machine; naturally, the computer found its way into Xanth.

Read an Excerpt

“Death,” the proprietor said clearly, showing the stone. It was a bright red ruby, multifaceted, set in a plain gold ring. It was a full carat—large for this quality.
Zane shook his head, experiencing a chill. “I don’t want that one!”
The man smiled, an obviously perfunctory and practiced expression reserved for wavering marks. He was well dressed, but somewhat sallow, in the manner of those who remained in the shade too long. “You misunderstand, sir. This fine gem does not bring you death. It does the opposite.”
Zane was hardly reassured. “Then why call it—?”
“The Deathstone.” Again that annoyingly patronizing shaping of the face, as the proprietor eased the ignorant concern of the balky customer. “It merely advises the wearer of the proximity of termination, by darkening. The speed and intensity of the change notifies you of the potential circumstance of your demise—in plenty of time for you to avoid it.”
“But isn’t that paradox?” Zane had seen such stones advertised, usually at prohibitive prices, but discounted the claims as marketing hyperbole. “A prophecy isn’t valid, if—”
“No paradox,” the proprietor said with professional certainty. “Merely adequate warning. You could hardly obtain a better service, sir. After all, what is more precious than life?”
“That presumes a person’s life is worth living,” Zane said sourly. He was a young man of no particular stature or distinction of feature, with acne scars that neither medication nor spot-spell had been able to eradicate entirely. His hair was dishwater brown and somewhat unkempt, and his teeth were unfashionably irregular. He was obviously a depressive type. “So it darkens, and you change your course, and you don’t die. You figure the warning saved you. But it could be a random turning of the stone. Color-spells are a dime a dozen. No way to prove the prophecy was valid. On the other hand, if it fails to darken, and you die, how can you complain? You’ll be dead!” He scratched distractedly at a scar. “If it’s wrong, how do you get a refund?”
“You don’t believe?” the proprietor asked, frowning expertly. Apart from his complexion, he was a moderately handsome man of early middle age whose hair was enchanted to carry a permanent chestnut wave. “I run a respectable shop. I assure you, all my spell stones are genuine.”
“According to the Apocalypse, Death rides a pale horse,” Zane said, warming to his melancholy. He evidently had some education in this area. “I question whether an inanimate object, a chunk of colored corundum, can stay that dread horseman so simply. Given the uncertainties of the situation, such a stone is of no practical use to the owner. He can only test it by seeing it turn, then refusing to change his course. If it is a valid prophecy, he is doomed. If it is not, he has been cheated. It’s a no-win game. I have played enough of that type.”
“I will provide you a demonstration,” the proprietor said, perceiving a morbid streak that could make this customer vulnerable to an aggressive and properly slanted sales pitch. “Skepticism is healthy, sir, and you are obviously too intelligent to be deceived by defective merchandise. The value of the stone can be proved.”
Zane shrugged, affecting indifference. “A free demonstration? Can it be worth more than I pay for it?”
The proprietor smiled more genuinely, knowing that his fish, despite evasive maneuverings, was halfway hooked. Truly uninterested persons did not linger to argue cases. He took the stone from the magically theft-proofed glass display case and proffered it.
Zane smiled quirkily and accepted the ring, putting it on the tip of his thumb. “Unless there’s some immediate and obvious threat for the stone to point out—”
Then he was silent, for already the ring was turning. The bright red deepened to dark red, and then to opaque.
Zane’s mind began to numb around the edges. Death—he had a deep guilt there. He looked at his left arm, feeling a spot of blood burning into the skin. He pictured the face of his mother as she died. How could he ever exonerate that memory?
“Death—within hours, suddenly!” the proprietor said, aghast. “The stone is absolutely black! I’ve never seen it turn so fast!”
Zane shook off his private specter. No, he could not afford to believe in this! “If I am to die within hours, I’ll have no need of this stone.”
“But you do need it, sir!” the proprietor insisted. “With the Deathstone you can change your fate. Hold it and decide on a new course, and if the color returns, you know it’s right. You can save your life! But you have to have this fine magical ruby to guide you. To steer you away from death. Otherwise you will surely perish before the day is out. That warning is emphatic!”
Zane hesitated. The Deathstone was an impressive item now. It had, as it were, not minced words. But he had been thinking about death while holding the stone, and that could have made the color turn. Emotion-indicator spells were simple and cheap, hardly deserving the name of magic. There could be many things like that to give false readings. Still—
“How much?” he asked
“How much is life worth?” the propietor asked in return, with a certain predatory gleam in his eyes.
“About two cents, if this stone is right,” Zane said grimly. Yet his heart was beating with nervous power.
“Two cents—per minute,” the proprietor said, going into the closing spiel. “But this phenomenal and beautiful stone is available presently at a discount of fifty percent. I will sell it to you for a mere one cent per minute, including principal, interest, servicing, insurance—”
“How much per month?” Zane demanded, seeing himself getting reeled in.
The proprietor brought out a pocket calculator and punched buttons dexterously. “Four hundred and thirty-two dollars.”
Zane stiffened. He had anticipated a high price, but this was impossible. A family could buy a good house for a similar figure!
“How long?”
“Only fifteen years or less.”
“Or less?”
“In case the gem should miscarry, the insurance will pay off the balance owing, of course.”
“Of course,” Zane agreed with a wry quirk of his mouth. A miscarriage meant death, which meant a bum enchantment. They planned to collect their money regardless of the effectiveness of the Deathstone in protecting its owner. He performed a quick mental calculation and concluded he was being charged a little over seventy-five thousand in total. About two-thirds of that would be interest and other peripherals; still, it was a lot of money. A great lot! More, probably, than his life was worth. Literally.
“He handed back the ruby. Its color returned rapidly as the proprietor took it. In moments its special, deep shade of red glowed beautifully in the lighting of the shop. A ruby was indeed a lovely gemstone, even when it wasn’t magic.
“What else?” Zane asked. He was shaken, but still wanted to find something that would help him.
“Love,” the proprietor said immediately, bringing out a cloudy blue sapphire mounted on another gold ring.
Zane looked at the stone. “Love, as in romance? A woman? Marriage?”
“Or whatever.” The proprietor’s smile was not quite as warm as it had been, perhaps because of the misstep on the prior stone. He did not enjoy seeing fish slip the hook. This gem was probably less expensive, meaning a smaller profit. “This fine stone brightens at the prospect of romance of any kind. Sapphire, as you know, is chemically the same stone as ruby; both are corundum, but because the colors of sapphire are not as rare as those of ruby, the value is less. This is therefore a bargain. It will tune in to your romance; all you have to do is follow its signal until you score.”
“Zane remained skeptical. “You can’t find romance by zeroing in as if it’s a target! There are social aspects, complex nuances of compatibility—”
“The Lovestone takes account of all that, sir. It orients on the right one, taking all factors into consideration. Left to your own devices, you are very likely to make a mistake, and suffer an unfortunate liaison, perhaps one that will become a grief to you. With this stone, that will never happen.”
“But there could be many excellent combinations,” Zane protested. “Many right women. How can a mere gem select among them?”
“Circumstances alter cases, sir. Some women are ideal for any man, with qualities of beauty, talent, and loyalty that make them highly desirable regardless of the variations in the males. But most of them are already married, as these qualities are readily perceived by the boy next door, lucky fellow. Others may be destined for some devaluing development, like a disfiguring illness or serious problems among their relatives. The Lovestone knows; it orients on the most suitable, most reliable, most available individual. It is unerring. Simply turn it to obtain the brightest glow and follow where it leads. You will not be disappointed.” He held forth the blue sapphire. “One demonstration trial, sir.”
“I don’t know. If it’s like the last one—”
“This is romance! How can you lose?”

Table of Contents

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On a Pale Horse (Incarnations of Immortality #1) 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 156 reviews.
Wesker_Chick More than 1 year ago
This book is compeling and will grip you right from the first page...and won't let go till the very last. It makes you stop and think about the concept of Death and just who has the right to die. Plus, who can resist a mix of magic and technology with Satan there to gum up the works! I loved this book from begenning to end and just couldn't put it down. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in fantasy and, above all, the ideas behind death.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Though it can be a little strange at times, and almost to the point of cheesiness, I found myself coming back for more. What you would call a "page turner". Character development is good and it's a very easy read, without being easy to the point of simplicity. If you can get past the cheesiness (magic stones and flying carpets) it's a very good book. I went on the buy the next 3 in the series, which have all been just as interesting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I actually bought this book cause work was pretty slow at the time and I needed something to do, and I liked it so much I ended up reading the entire series. So, I strongly recommend this book and the rest of the series.
chrissysnow More than 1 year ago
A friend recommended his books to me. This was the first of his that I read but it definitely won't be the last. I have read a few others and each is refreshingly unpredictable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm a huge piers anthony fan. This series has always been my favorite because of how easily his stories flow and the ability to imagine the characters as he describes them.
Anonymous 16 days ago
I'm glad to say this series has been on my shelf since first published.Read several times over the years and still enjoy!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book, and have read the whole series multiple times. When reading the series, you really need to start with this one first.
Bookmarque on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
All very dramatic. And the prose fits right in. People in this (future?) world speak strangely. It¿s all part of Anthony¿s preachy style. And preach he does, this work is clearly just stage dressing for the author¿s views on death, the afterlife, God and Satan. And he doesn¿t think any of it is fair. That babies can be born with sin on their balance sheets and be sent to Purgatory forever, that seemingly bad acts done with good intention and purpose can be counted as sin, that death is uncaring and blind ¿ all of this bugs Anthony and he lets us know it.My feelings about these books haven¿t changed since the first time I read them back in the 80s. They¿re fun reads with interesting, if hokey, plots and an underlying message of truth, justice and the American Way, with the occasional dragon and love spell thrown in. Zane is a flawed man, but not entirely so and much like the rest of us, he does well under pressure and even has the occasional flash of brilliance. Excellent escapist fare.
Karlstar on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
On of Piers Anthony's best books, maybe THE best. The concept of this book is fascinating - what if the various powers of the world, such as Time, Death, Nature, were not immortal, but instead were replaced from time to time by mortals? When Evil tries to subvert the whole process, it makes for a great story featuring the first Incarnation, Death, of course.
wyvernfriend on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
While the story was interesting there were times that the preaching broke the suspension of disbelief.This is the story of a man who kills death and finds himself with the job. The first part of the story is all about this growth into the role and his understanding of the importance of Death. Then he finds himself embroiled in a plot by Satan.It's interesting, the afterword by the author is fun, the concept of a world a little like ours where magic and technology co-habit and where magic is regarded as just another technology is fun, but it didn't quite truly work for me. If I had read it while younger I would have probably enjoyed it more, it gained a half-star for age.
arowe on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved this whole series. A bit bizarre, but if you just go with it, it is a great story. This series is the only work by Piers Anthony that I have been able to enjoy, but it will always be one of my all time fav's.
Gkarlives on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This story was fun to read because it was refreshingly different. Some people may find it too light hearted, but I found the world fascinating and the characters enjoyable. Piers Anthony has a way of mixing deeper ideas with enjoyable content in this series. Unfortunately the series gets weeker after the third book.
dmac9000 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
On a Pale Horse is one of my favorites. It takes a modern look at the Grim Reaper and even adds a futuristic element to it. I just re-read it recently and I like it as much now as the first time I read it.
balzigore on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Quite possibly the worst novel writing I've ever encountered. Great premise; horrifying dialogue and narrative prose.
JechtShot on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Zane, an everyman down on his luck and ready to end it all, is given the opportunity to take on the role of Death personified. Piers Anthony turns the concept of the grim reaper upside down as we learn that Death is merely a mortal man, who through magical means, takes on the facade of the skeletal persona that is associated with death. Zane is forced to learn through trial and error how to perform the job of Death with the help of other incarnations: Time, War, Nature and of course Fate. Through a little dash of Satan into the mix and this becomes quite an enjoyable read.
EmeraldGreen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
On a Pale Horse starts strongly, with an interesting world and a fascinating premise. Unfortunately, the writing wasn't strong enough to hold my interest long. The dialogue is particularly poor. All the characters speak in the same pretentious, moralistic tone, sounding more like authorial mouthpieces than people in their own right.The book's philosophy is more complex than it might at first seem, and with stronger characterisation and prose, it could have been an effective social critique. As it is, it's a tedious story with a heavy-handed moral message.
Scoshie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Book #1 in the series -- this book is wonderful. I dont think I have ever read anything by Piers Anthony that has not at least held your attention. Excellent Read."The book focuses on Zane, a desperate and lonely man who decides to commit suicide. As he is about to shoot himself, he sees the figure of Death walking towards him and, panicking, Zane shoots and kills Death instead. Zane learns that deities such as Death, Time and the Fates are roles performed by human beings. Death's role is to send the souls of the dead to Heaven, Hell or Purgatory depending upon the good and evil gathered by the soul during their life. Where a soul is in fine balance, Death must attend personally to make the final determination and send the soul to its appropriate destination and that's when everthing goes wrong!!"
HippieLunatic on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story of Zane and Luna is an intriguing one. The concept is one that I was excited to read, but even without a pull to the plot, I would have loved this story and the depth that Anthony is able to give it.Zane becomes Death. Luna becomes pivotal to the good of the world. They join together, not so much in love as Zane would like, more so than Luna might be willing to admit in her time of grief. Zane becomes more capable as Death until he goes on strike.Even knowing that there are more in this series to come, I was very happy with the way this chapter was able to wrap up Zane and Luna so neatly. I felt as though I was rewarded for finishing the first book in a series, and I often am left wanting closure at this point in a long story arch. There were sentences in this work that I would have highlighted, if I were that type of reader. The writing is crystal clear, but still potent with beauty.
bookwormteri on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Zane kills Death, becomes Death, falls in love, and balks Satan. Interesting beginning to a series, I am looking forward to seeing where it goes. This book is easier to understand than Bearing an Hourglass, the mechanics of the office made that one difficult to understand in parts.
dmsteyn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In a world that mixes magic and technology, Zane is a loser on all fronts. Not only has he gambled away his savings, but he also wastes his last few dollars on a magic stone that is supposed to show him money, but it is really a dud, only leading him to small change. He also missed the opportunity to buy a gem that would have led him to the love of his life. In despair, he decides to end his life. Just as he is about to shoot himself, Death appears on the scene. So Zane shoots Death instead.Zane is forced to become the new Death, inheriting the powers of his predecessor. Admittedly, this is not a terrible idea for a fantasy novel, and having been written in 1982, it predates Terry Pratchett¿s Discworld `Death¿ by a few years. But Pratchett is a much better writer than Anthony, both conceptually and stylistically. Anthony seems to throw in ideas as they come along, often leading to contradictions and non sequiturs. His mixture of magic and technology also seemed unnecessary, to say the least. I would have found the book more interesting if it was based in the `real¿ world, without the magic. Anthony could still have made an exception for Death as anthropomorphic being, leading to a more coherent book. After all, the book does not really focus on the magic in the world; most of Death¿s encounters are with very normal people in normal circumstances. Why Anthony needs to introduce flying carpets, dragons, etc. is beyond me.On the other hand, I did find the use of the different Incarnations of Immortality absorbing. I also thought the introduction of a Christian eschatology interesting, but Anthony fumbles this, as much else, by being too much of a teller than a shower. Satan is extremely clichéd, which is not really a bad thing, but his interaction with Zane is predictable and somewhat boring. I also thought that Anthony¿s handling of Zane¿s relationship with the main love interest, Luna, could have been handled more interestingly. I liked the idea that Death goes on strike, refusing to reap Luna because Satan has cheated in order to get her to hell. That was fine. It was Anthony¿s awkward style and leaps of logic that irritated me.I realise that this was Anthony¿s first real attempt at a more `serious¿ book after the success he had with his Xanth series. And it is not utterly terrible. Death has a few interesting conversations with the dying, the most interesting being one with an atheist. To a degree, I wish that Anthony had added some humour to the book, as it seems that this is what Anthony is really best at. Anthony also has an incredibly long and tedious note at the end of the book. He relates his own experiences with mortality while writing the book, which is fine, but then goes into excruciating detail about his life, his children, fans, the writing process, and so on. It could easily have been cut to about five pages, instead of the 25 page monster that it ended up being.So, I may be tempted to read some of Anthony¿s humorous books, but I will be avoiding more of his Incarnation series.
simply00complex on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Amazing! A true masterpiece! This book gives a very unique look into the world of the afterlife, heaven, hell, and purgatory. In a world where magic is in the norm, Zane decided to end his luck, but rather than shooting himself, he shooting The Grim Reaper. After doing so, Fate enters and tells him he must assume the role of Death, so he rides on the world with his pale horse, collecting the souls of the dead and uncovers a plot that Satan is planning and tries to take action.This novel hooked me from the beginning and kept me hooked throughout the whole thing. It's different from anything else I've ever read and is one of my favorite books. I will read it again and definitely recommend it.
nnylrac2 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
First and best of the Series.
methos83 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Awesome book! When I first read it, I was sick in bed with the flu and a friend had loaned me her copy. I felt like I was on Death's door myself and then I read this and I was blown away by story as well as the fabulous imagination of Piers Anthony. I have since had to replace my own purchased copy several times due to the constant rereading of the series. Everytime I read it I see something new to think about.
patricia_poland on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of my very favorite Piers Anthony books--fascinating look at 'death' as a 'person'.
isabelx on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As Zane is about to commit suicide, he shoots Death and has to take his place as one of the mortal immortals - the incarnations of Death, Fate, War, Time and Nature.An enjoyable light fantasy, in which Zane has to come to terms with his new role, with the help of the other incarnations and Mortis, the pale horse of the title.