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On a Pale Horse

(Incarnations of Immortality #1)

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  38,039 ratings  ·  1,691 reviews
When Zane shoots Death, he has to take the job, speeding over the world riding Mortis, his pale horse/limo, measuring souls for the exact balance of Good and Evil, sending each to Heaven or Hell instead of Purgatory. The new Thanatos is superbly competent, ends pain when he ends lives. But Satan is forging a trap for Luna, the woman Death loves.
Paperback, 325 pages
Published September 12th 1986 by Del Rey (first published October 1st 1983)
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Average rating 4.14  · 
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 ·  38,039 ratings  ·  1,691 reviews

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Ok, I think it's time to delve into my long-evolving and conflicted feelings about this series and about Piers Anthony. Especially since I changed my rating for this book from a 5 to a 1.

When I was young, I loved this series. It was on my favourites list throughout high-school. I was also pretty obsessed with the Xanth series, and would get new books from that series for many christmases and birthdays. These series, and Piers in general, go into my adult category of things-I-can't-believe-I-didn

4.0 stars. Piers Anthony is a MIND-NUMBING ENIGMA to me. He is capable of writing extremely thought-provoking, imaginative stories that are both original and speak to fundamental aspects of the human condition. The mystery is that he does so infrequently, despite being one of the most prolific authors in the speculative fiction. Wait....on second thought, maybe that is the answer. Quantity of production slamming right into the proverbial nuts of quality.

Well this first novel in the Incarnat
J.L.   Sutton
Aug 17, 2020 rated it liked it
“Do you seek to bribe Death?” Zane asked, half angry and two-thirds curious.”

On a Pale Horse by Piers Anthony

I'd read Anthony's Apprentice Adept Series (beginning with Split Infinity) when I was in high school. I liked how technology was mixed with magic. In On a Pale Horse, the first book in the Incarnations of Immortality Series, there's a similar kind of mixing going on. The story focuses on a normal man, Zane, becoming the next incarnation of Death. Instead of simply relying on the traditional accoutrements of the office,
Jul 31, 2011 rated it liked it
This was the first book I ever read of Piers Anthony and I was hooked.

Original, imaginative and told by a true story-teller, this was a gem. And best of all, this blended good science fiction with pure fantasy elements to make a very enjoyable read.

A man accidentally kills Death, an incarnation of Immortality and - shades of Tim Allen in The Santa Clause - he must don the black mantle and ride the white horse. It turns out to be a white car and a pretty cool gig when all is settled. That is un
Kat  Hooper
Sep 02, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: audiobook
ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

When the grim reaper shows up a few seconds early, Zane shoots him instead of using the gun on himself as he’d planned. Now, instead of being dead, Zane is Death. He has to take over the office, riding around the world in his convertible pale horse collecting and measuring the souls of those who’ve committed equal amounts of good and evil during their lives — those who are “in balance.” In his new guise (complete with all of the accoutrements: scythe, hood
Aug 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This is the first in the Incarnations of Immortality series, and probably the best of the batch. I believe I read somewhere that Anthony originally intended only to write the five (Death, Time, Fate, War, and Earth), and I think he probably should have stopped there, because while With a Tangled Skein is probably the best book of the series in terms of pulling the other books together, they did (as Sci-Fi series so often do) start to drag quite a bit towards the later books, and ended up just pl ...more
Wanda Pedersen
Jun 05, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommended to Wanda by: NPR list of science fiction & fantasy
Actual rating: 2.5 stars.

I can see where I would have been really into this series if I’d read it as a teenager. I was just busy reading at that point in my life and not very much into evaluating what I was taking in. It is a very male-oriented story, with women being mostly objects that they compete for and fight over. The male characters evaluate women by their age and attractiveness, although Zane/Death comes to grudgingly admire Luna’s strength, intelligence, and morality. If I had children,
Chris Salzman
Mar 26, 2011 rated it did not like it
I first read this book back when I was 13 and loved it. Immediately tore through the rest of the books in the series and would regularly bring up the series in conversations about books worth reading. A few months back I found a paperback copy of On A Pale Horse at a book sale for 50 cents and picked it up thinking it'd be fun to revisit the series.


This is an extraordinarily sexist book. Alarmingly so. Women are regularly--approximately every time they are talked about--described by thei
David Staniforth
Feb 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This was the book that got me into reading fiction many years ago, and inspired me to want to write. The reading happened straight away and I've not stopped since; the writing took a little longer to get started, and I see no sign of stopping that now either.

So, reading for the second time many years later, much of the narrative feels a little dated in regard to social references and attitudes, but I enjoyed the story just as much as I did as a young man. Now I feel compelled to reread the rest
Mar 25, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014, audio
Maybe a better title for this book would be, "Euthanasia Rocks!"

I honestly thought I would like this book a whole lot more. It doesn't help that the impetus for my reading this book was a good friend's rusty memory of reading this in high school. I feel that would have been a great time to read it, now ... less so.

My main problem was the annoying protagonist. I don't know if this was something that was a rule for fantasy writing in the 80s, but what is with the protagonist who's characterized as
Valyssia Leigh
Okay, I'm done. I made it 2 hours and 47 minutes into the audiobook, and this just isn't good. It starts with one of the most most blatant cases of the trope 'women as rewards' I've seen in popular fiction and just keeps piling them on. It's gross. I stopped just after the female football team with the invisible protective gear and mammary glands likened to those of goats. How that's sexy, I'm not sure, but Piers Anthony didn't spare the adjectives. He took several passes after the 'goat udder' ...more
Molly McBisterson
Jul 28, 2007 rated it really liked it
On a Pale Horse is the best book Piers Anthony's ever written.

Sadly, that's not saying much. Anthony has some very creative ideas, but his prose is mechanical at best and plainly clunky at worst.

Even so, some of the ideas are worth the slog. The Incarnations of Immortality series, though it fades at the end as all of Anthony's series do, is a clever and occasionally inspired look at religion, spirituality, and morality. In different hands it might have been pure art (see also, Good Omens by Prat
Nov 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: future-fantasy
Death does ride a Pale Horse but that Horse can be so much more if that is what the job calls for, or at least that is what Anthony will have us believe.

A friend of mine in high school pushed this series on me and I reluctantly started to read it. Have I mentioned that science fiction really isn't my favorite yet? Because yeah, it takes something special for me to really delve into science fiction. Not that this is science fiction per say but more like an alternate Earth with some futuristic ele
I think this is a case of it's not you it's me. This is a very popular book but everyone that I personally know that has read and loved it say they read it way back in the 80's or 90's. I wonder if they would still feel the same way if they read it for the first time today. I've just read too many outstanding fantasy novels this year so this book had big shoes to fill. Unfortunately it fell short. I'm not sure why but I went into this book expecting it to be funny. I was actually looking forward ...more
Well, I enjoyed the author's note. That was entertaining. I read he does that at the end of all of his books.

As for the book, itself, I'm not too sure. What I liked: The idea of the story - Death as a real man, unwittingly thrust into the role, and having to figure it out as he went. I liked Mortis the horse/limousine. I liked Satan advertising on billboards that Hell is actually a Fun place to be! I was a big fan of Dead Like Me and was so bummed when they canceled that series. There were actua
Aug 08, 2007 rated it really liked it
Piers Anthony is an author who is more conceptually innovative than literary. His writing is like puff pastry and not very substantive, but his characters are likable and the plots engaging. He has moments of preachiness mixed in, and sometimes a puerile sense of humor, but if you don't mind these things (or indeed, revel in them) you should give him a try. None of Anthony's books takes long to read, and you'll be able to tell by the first 100 pages of a series whether you're into his concept.

Feb 06, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: sci-fi, 2018-books
You know what, 4 star concept and story... minus 2 stars for the women characters. Every single one was stripped naked or offered to the main character for sex, usually both. Seriously, bro.

The deaths Zane came across to weigh their good v. evil were so interesting and morally questionable at times, I really did enjoy the story. However, I can't overlook the poor female characterizations. On the fence on weather to continue on with this series although my gut says don't.
Sep 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2018
It’s my first time reading Anthony, and overall I enjoyed this story. Yes, it’s dated, & yep definitely some unnecessary female sexualization, but overall I liked the story and it was a fun read juxtaposed with my current political read. I liked the play of good verses evil and all the grey areas, the exploration of original sin, and what if bad things are done for good reasons. It was a bit too simple in some places, but overall interesting read.
Mike (the Paladin)
In my opinion this is the best of the incarnations series. Interesting where the guy discovers he's "become" the new incarnation of Death (and of course how he became "Death"). I think this was a pretty good book and it's one of only a few Anthony books I really like. I read a few others of the Incarnation Series, and incidental other Anthony books. Not in general a fan of his. ...more
Kara Babcock
I’ve long been a fan of anthropomorphized versions of Death. This is probably not surprising, since we have been doing this for thousands of years to varying degrees of sophistication. And some do it better than others. I’m a big fan of Julian Richings’ portrayal of Death on Supernatural. He captures the eerie, inhuman quality of Death as a force of nature older than God so well, managing to appear suave and completely cold at the same time. (Plus, he kind of looks the part.)

In On a Pale Horse,
Jul 30, 2009 rated it it was ok
The gospel according to Piers Anthony is mismanaged and a little boring. We're compelled to wade through half a novel of false doctrine before hitting actual storyline. Every chapter plants a seed of what's to come, but it is slow and tedious until the last few chapters. Had I read only the second half of the novel, I think I might have enjoyed it. It is a wildly creative story, embedding future, fantasy, and religion.

Piers Anthony is thoroughly self-absorbed. This novel embodies his great love
Mar 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
One summer while in Jr High, my brother handed me a book. The cover was yellow and depicted Death driving a very nice looking sports car. I loved the book, and unlike Anthony's Xanth series, Incarnations is still very readable for me today. I've heard the argument that many feel that Anthony has far too many sexual scenes in the Incarnations books. I guess I never really latched onto those scenes as being particularly offensive. There are worse books than these out there for that.
The books thems
How this never got added to Goodreads confounds me. I’ve read this book a number of times. It is the beginning of Piers Anthony’s series “Incarnations of Immortality”. Zane isn’t much of a person but when he becomes Death himself, will he stay a nonentity or grow to do his new profession with excellence? As Anthony made clear in his author’s note, while entertaining, he was trying to discuss serious questions. He ultimately rejected the minimal atheist position of “it must be all about me”, havi ...more
May 11, 2021 rated it it was ok
Super nice guy Zane has to take up the mantle of death and begrudgingly do some reaping (well, super nice except that he makes a living by being a sex pervert because this is a Piers Anthony novel. Anthony is known to be a weirdo in real life and it always seems to seep into his work).

This novel seems to exist to give Anthony a forum to wax philosophical about various topics. He never gets any deeper or more profound than a child would, though (people shouldn't have to suffer and good people sh
M.M. Strawberry Library & Reviews
At 4.5 stars, this is a solid book by Mr. Anthony. I actually enjoyed the Incarnations series more than the few Xanth books I read in the past. I originally read Incarnations book 3 and 5 (5 was the first I ever read, not knowing it was part of a series) so I was a bit 'spoiled' when I decided to buy the entire set. Still, this book was a highly enjoyable read, set in a world where science and magic are mixed together. Zane is a genuinely likable character, and his story is enjoyable.

A compassio
Mar 26, 2016 rated it it was ok
This book did not age well. I realize that this book is a product of its time but boy howdy, the sexism in this book is really bad. I tried to read it "Mad Men" style, trying to look past it but because the book hinges on this I found it impossible. I have read a lot of books from this time period, Stranger in a Strange Land is one I still enjoy despite it's sexism, this book just can't escape it.
I picked up this book after hearing the TAL story about Piers Anthony. I realized I had not read any
Jackie "the Librarian"
Apr 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fans of humorous fantasy
Shelves: fantasy, humor
This is the only Piers Anthony book I really liked. For once there's enough actual plot to distract the author from his usual preoccupations of breasts and bad puns.
The premise is similar to "The Santa Clause", but instead of the jolly old elf, it's the Grim Reaper who kicks the bucket. Erm, gets shot to death by the protagonist. It's an ACCIDENT, okay!
Now the protagonist has to take his place, and figure out all the gadgets Death uses to find the souls he collects. There's a cool car/horse, an
Jul 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
I decided to reread this series when I learned there was an eighth book. I could probably go straight to the eighth book no problem, but I remembered liking this series and I still do. The concept is very clever -- that each of the incarnations is a regular person fulfilling a job. Death becomes Death by killing the former Death. Afterward, he has to learn the ins and outs of his job -- making sure the souls that are roughly in balance end up going to the right place (haven or hell). And Satan, ...more
Jul 11, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: previouslyread
This was the beginning of my Piers Anthony kick a couple years ago. This series was very interesting. It is called the Incarnations of Immortality, with this first book being the best of the series. The others were interesting. The premise is that regular people take on the mantle of Death, The Fates, Mother Nature, Mars, Father Time, etc. There are a total of seven books, so you can guess who the 6th and 7th are. I never could get ahold of the 6th book and I'm not one to skip on to the last wit ...more
Marian Hartman
Mar 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Fantasy involving human deity interaction
Recommended to Marian by: Eric Willeke
Shelves: fantasy, fiction
I very much enjoyed this fantasy book that focused on the office of Death and it's coorelation with the other Incarnations. It's cause and effect logic was always sound and infuriatingly obvious after reading the explanation of the logic.

The author did a great job keeping the reader's emotions on par with the protagonist (Zane), even feeling the frustration and eventual enlightenment that he experienced.

One more note: Mortis is awesome!
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Though he spent the first four years of his life in England, Piers never returned to live in his country of birth after moving to Spain and immigrated to America at age six. After graduating with a B.A. from Goddard College, he married one of his fellow students and and spent fifteen years in an assortment of professions before he began writing fiction full-time.

Piers is a self-proclaimed environm

Other books in the series

Incarnations of Immortality (8 books)
  • Bearing an Hourglass (Incarnations of Immortality, #2)
  • With a Tangled Skein (Incarnations of Immortality, #3)
  • Wielding a Red Sword (Incarnations of Immortality, #4)
  • Being a Green Mother (Incarnations of Immortality, #5)
  • For Love of Evil (Incarnations of Immortality, #6)
  • And Eternity (Incarnations of Immortality, #7)
  • Under a Velvet Cloak (Incarnations of Immortality, #8)

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