by Terry Pratchett
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Monstrous Regiment is the thirtieth novel in the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, yet it does not show any signs of the series slowing down. In fact, Pratchett continues to breathe new life into the series by exploring his themes in new ways and by making sure that readers who pick up the more recent novels do not necessarily need an encyclopedic knowledge of the series to enjoy any random book.
This novel details the adventures of Polly Perks as she flees her home to find her brother, Paul, lost in the constant wars between Borogravia and its neighbors. Since Nuggun, the god of Borogravia views women in the army (along with practically everything else) as an Abomination, Polly takes on the disguise of Oliver (of course, women masquerading as men is also an Abomination Unto Nuggun). Polly quickly discovers that the army is not what she had assumed and that she makes a better soldier than she would have guessed.
Pratchett introduces numerous themes into the novel, most of which are collateral to the main theme. Although he doesn’t always follow up on these, they are done in a manner which imparts depth to the Borogravian situation without leaving the reader wondering why Pratchett introduced the ideas. His major theme, as it has been in so many of the novels, is that people are people, but he focuses specifically on the battle of the sexes in Monstrous Regiment, with forays into police states, repressive (and internally contradictory) religions, and individuality, among others.
It might seem easy to draw parallels between the Discworld countries Pratchett describes and Roundworld counterparts, however, as with any analogies, there is no direct relationship. Saying, for instance, that Ankh-Morpork is the United States may give some feel for the city’s hegemony in Discworld, but it doesn’t reflect the full reality of either entity. Similarly, while Borogravia may have some superficial links to some of the Muslim theocracies, the society described has no direct correlation to any single place in the real world.
In any novel or film which focuses on a ragtag bunch of recruits, there is the obligatory scene in which the harsh sergeant whips them into shape and they come together as a team. Pratchett does not disappoint by his decision to cleverly forego this set piece, instead throwing his heroes fully into the fray, led by an eternal sergeant, the legendary Sergeant Jackrum, and the inconsequential Lieutenant Blouse, whose goal is to gain glory and have a food named after him.
There is something Pythonesque about the denouement, however Pratchett handles the various revelations without descending into the silliness of a Monty Python skit, maintaining the decorum of the characters he has built up over the course of the novel. The ultimate end of the novel is bittersweet in many ways, and, although it shows change, the change it shows is a little too pat, leaving the reader with the feeling that Pratchett isn’t quite done with the Borogravian situation.
This is not Pratchett’s first foray into war, but the feel of Monstrous Regiment is very different from that of Jingo, although Sam Vimes plays pivotal roles in both books. One of the differences, perhaps, is that in Jingo, Pratchett was building on characters and situations which he had cultivated over several novels, whereas the characters, settings and situations in Monstrous Regiment were designed specifically for the purposes of this novel. Nevertheless, the physical laws of Discworld are engrained into the setting, which provides Monstrous Regiment with a gravitas which would have been lacking if it was a tale spun without reference to a larger literary world.