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Monstrous Regiment
Terry Pratchett
HarperCollins, 353 pages

Monstrous Regiment
Terry Pratchett
Terry Pratchett lives in Somerset, England, where he spends all his time, and more, writing his rigorously naturalistic, curiously entertaining, shamelessly popular Discworld novels which have earned him extravagant acclaim and puzzled stares from millions of readers around the world.

SF Site Reading List: Terry Pratchett
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Wee Free Men
SF Site Review: The New Discworld Companion
SF Site Review: Night Watch
SF Site Review: The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents
SF Site Review: Thief of Time
SF Site Review: Nanny Ogg's Cookbook
SF Site Review: The Truth
SF Site Review: City Watch Trilogy
SF Site Review: The Fifth Elephant
SF Site Review: The Discworld Assassins' Guild Yearbook and Diary 2000
SF Site Review: The Science of Discworld
SF Site Review: The Last Continent
SF Site Review: Hogfather
SF Site Review: Jingo
SF Site Review: Feet of Clay
SF Site Review: Maskerade
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A review by Hank Luttrell

Terry Pratchett's American publishers wonder why more people don't read his books. Not that they don't sell well, they do. In Great Britain, his books sell second best only to J.K. Rowling.

Pratchett knows what readers like; he uses characters drawn from myth and folk and fairy tales, from popular fiction and movies. His books are at once parody and satire; parody of our popular entertainments, and satire of our life styles, the bureaucracies we tolerate or enable, and our shared culture. Pratchett uses his books to critically examine issues which concern him, and which concern all of us. For instance, in this new book he has to deal with war.

It would be a mistake to try to interpret the places, situations and characters in a Pratchett book as having precise equivalents in our "real" world. Ankh-Morpork, for instance, is Discworld's most affluent and technologically advanced city-state, but it isn't exactly symbolic of America, or even Great Britain. For one thing, Ankh-Morpork's Samuel Vimes doesn't seem to represent anyone in our world, unfortunately.

Sam is a Duke, though he has little use for royalty; his job is Commander of Ankh-Morpork's police. Part of what he does to keep the peace is to recruit an honest, diverse police force, including werewolves, vampires, trolls and zombies; all citizens who have often been victims of prejudice and crime in Discworld.

In Monstrous Regiment, Sam Vimes is a peace maker on a broader scale. He has been dispatched to Borogravia to stop a war. This war only became an issue to Ankh-Morpork when it interfered with commerce, and now Borogravia has torn down communication towers, so the war must end. Borogravia is a weak, unstable, backward country; nevertheless always at war with all or most of its neighbors. The government is broken, as the beloved monarch hasn't been seen in a long time and is probably deceased, with this truth concealed by the state. The official religion is decadent, with the local god on the decline, but still able to issue increasingly insane and paralyzing lists of forbidden "abominations," such as chocolate, cats, garlic, the color blue and women wearing trousers.

Polly is a barmaid, daughter of the tavern and inn owner. She has to work hard, but her life is frankly better than many in Borogravia. Better, for instance, than the maimed veterans and the destitute widows, victims of the continuous war. Much better than the "bad girls" imprisoned in a nearby "school." There seem to be few opportunities for Polly, so she makes a plan.

Of course, she disguises herself as a boy and joins the military.

Polly's squad is in a desperate time and place. No one may talk of it, but they are losing the war. They seem, in fact, to be the last possible recruits, and a motley, diverse crew they are, including a vampire, a troll, and one of Pratchett's best character-types, an Igor. Igors are mis-shaped humanoids seemingly stitched together from spare parts, dedicated to helping others, especially mad scientists to whom they are frequently assistants. Among the Igors' foremost talents, they are fine emergency surgeons, a valuable battlefield skill. Usually these non-human types take little interest in mere human disagreements, which make Polly's squad look unusual; perhaps even, well, monstrous.

Pratchett's publishers think one reason readers might not visit Discworld is that the books seem too British. For instance, I didn't really understand all the resonances of the title. You could easily guess that Monstrous Regiment referred to vampires and trolls and Igors, and of course it does. But recently the phrase has been used to refer to the British Suffragette movement in the 19th century. Ultimately it derives from the publication by John Knox, an attack on Mary Queen of Scots titled The First Blast of The Trumpet Against The Monstrous Regiment (1558), critical of the right of women to rule.

Discworld's appeal is that it is exotic and fantastic and terribly amusing, but at the same time familiar and recognizable, and always thoughtful. Even the monstrous stuff. If you are an American reader, Pratchett's Britishism will only be another part of the exotic and amusing aspects of the books.

Copyright © 2003 Hank Luttrell

Hank Luttrell has reviewed science fiction for newspapers, magazines and web sites. He was nominated for the Best Fanzine Hugo Award and is currently a bookseller in Madison, Wisconsin.

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