Book Review: “Monstrous Regiment” by Terry Pratchett

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The land of Borogravia is at war. So what else is new? Borogravia is a mad country, always at war with somebody. Their religion is mad, serving the decrees of a senile god whose ever-growing list of abominations includes oysters, babies, cheese, and the color blue. Their government is mad, headed by a duchess whose likeness is everywhere but whose living face hasn’t been seen in years. And right now, they are particularly mad at the neighboring land of Zlobenia, whose prince is the heir to their throne. Only this time, the customary war over a few miles of territory (which change sides of the border as often as the river floods its banks) has become a world war, since Borogravia’s latest territorial frenzy threatens the economic interests of Ankh-Morpork.

Watch Commander Sam Vimes, also styled the Duke of Ankh, has come to this Balkan-like hotbed of nationalistic and religious conflict, to see what can be done to restore the balance of power. Meanwhile, something weird is happening within Borogravia itself, something that may do Vimes’ job for him.

It begins when an innkeeper’s daughter named Sally Perks cuts her hair, dresses in men’s clothing, and joins the army under the name Oliver, a.k.a. Ozzer. All it takes is a well-placed pair of socks to make the ruse complete. Sally hopes to find her simple-minded, artistic brother Paul before the war kills him. But her hopes shrink when she realizes that her squad comprises the last recruits in the whole country.

No one wants to be disloyal and say Borogravia is losing the war, but all signs indicate that Zlobenia is invading, the population is fleeing, and the army is being slaughtered. The country’s last, desperate hope lies in a handful of raw recruits, led by the fearsome Sergeant Jackrum – recruits who include a troll, an Igor, an arsonist, a religious fanatic, and a vampire who drinks coffee instead of blood. More significantly, Sally slowly comes to realize that the entire squad is made up of females in disguise – each joining for a different reason, from searching for a runaway lover to fleeing scenes of terror and abuse.

Thus Monstrous Regiment becomes Discworld’s latest satire of gender politics, with an anti-war message stirred in. Even though women playing “pants roles” is an Abomination Unto Nuggan, the practice turns out to be surprisingly widespread. And while one small group of scared soldiers eludes an entire enemy army in a daring bid to save their country, Pratchett points up the madness of war in an adventure full of vivid characters, roaringly funny jokes, measured doses of naughtiness, and provocative ideas. Wrapped in the unique fantasy stylings of Discworld, in which magic is a basis for technology and the undead are a cultural minority, it shapes up to a highly entertaining package.

Recommended Age: 14+