by Terry Pratchett
Readers claim they can’t read a page of Pratchett without laughing aloud. He does it again with Discworld’s thirty-first installment, Monstrous Regiment—a cross between Mulan and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Pratchett’s Monstrous Regiment explores the myth of honor and glory in battle. Soldiers of Sergeant Jackrum’s regiment aren’t who they pretend to be. In fact, none of them even enlisted because they wanted to fight for their country. Protagonist Polly Perks, for example, hacked off her hair, donned men’s clothes, and shoved a pair of socks down the front of her trousers so that she could traipse across the countryside in search of her brother who disappeared in battle months ago.
Now Polly, four young recruits like herself, a troll, an igor, a vampire, a brute of a corporal, and a lieutenant who doesn’t know which way is up are all that’s left between the enemy and Polly’s home country of Borogravia—a country that worships a god that bans everything from birds to the color blue, and a duchess who hasn’t been seen in years.
Pratchett keenly keeps the reader grounded in Polly’s point of view even while satirizing the cruel reality of war. Not even Borogravia cares enough about their troops to give them proper food and armor. The soldiers begin to wonder if they wouldn’t be in better hands with the enemy, but this rag-tag team quickly gains fame from a passing newspaperman who publicizes the underdog army who won’t drop arms despite having lost the war. Even citizens of the opposing countries are rooting for them. Problem is, no one’s told the regiment they’re the only ones left standing.
You don’t need any prior knowledge of Pratchett’s Discworld series to fall in love with Monstrous Regiment. This is one of Discworld’s few stand alone novels. All of the characters are new, save cameos from William de Worde and some of the watchmen, including the ever-popular Commander Vimes. Not familiar withDiscworld? Imagine Douglas Adams’s wit with Neil Gaiman’s fantastical imagination. Now put it on a flat planet on the back of four elephants standing on a space turtle. Monstrous Regiment is a great introduction to the series because Discworld doesn’t need to be read in order, and some would argue, shouldn’t be.
Readers might need to read the book a second time to keep track of all the characters, what with the human soldiers having names like Tonker, Shufti, Lofty, and Wozzer. But hey, why not get it on audio this time around? Stephen Briggs does an unmatched Vimes and brings each character to life, giving them their own unique voices.
If you’ve enjoyed this post, why not try the Discworld Reading Challenge?