Continuing our long-standing love affair with the genius imagination of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, the latest up for review is the excellent Monstrous Regiment, which takes the idea of a war epic and spins it on its extra thick socks. Though we’re still in mourning following the author’s death in February 2015, we’re still managing to find time to be in awe of his incredible contribution to fantasy fiction and in the 31st Discworld novel he really did excel himself.
It’s a towering surprise of a story that instantly takes its place as one of his greatest books, which is no easy achievement as it largely features a brand new gang of characters. It first hit the bookshelves back in 2003 and if you haven’t read it yet, it’s definitely one to add to the list of catch-up novels with its clever take on equality, war and religion.
With such grandiose themes you might be fooled into thinking that this is Pratchett’s lost serious outing, but as ever with his sharp wit and daft humour there are more laughs than there is any overtly serious sentiment. However, his skill is that he’s able to be insightful and erudite, despite the more free-flowing, fantastical and fun-filled nature of his books.
It focuses on the adventures of Polly Perks, who joins the local army under the guise of Private Oliver Perks in a bid to find and rescue her brother Paul, who has been captured by the enemy during battle. She manages to make the ruse stick and join the Borogravia ranks under Seargeant Jackrum thanks to a little help from an unknown friend who gives her/him a pair of socks to complete the codpiece section of the disguise.
The regiment that she finds herself in is monstrous by name and nature as it includes all manner of Discworld races including a cold turkey vampire called Maladict, an Igor (obviously called Igor) and a troll called Carborundum (named after the chemical compound, silicon carbide). However, there’s a lot more (or a little less) to the rabble than meets the below the belt eyeline, which results in a very clever challenge to stereotypical roles, while also providing a lot of fun for good measure.
There’s a little space for cameo appearances from Commander Vimes, Angua and a few of the other members of the Ankh Morpork city watch, but ultimately this is about a new breed of Discworld characters. While it’s a standalone tour of duty for them they make it a very special operation on the battlefields of the warlike little nation under Nuggan.
They make for a great bunch of characters that come together to lay waste to any notion of pre-conceived ideas about who should be able to do what. It also manages to poke a massive pike in the general direction of religious mania, with the shadow of local God Nuggan hanging over everything with a stream of increasingly preposterous demands on society, while still retaining a little respect for some level of spiritualisation.
The fact that the book was named after the 16th century anxty text, The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, by Scottish clergyman John Knox, gives us a good idea about how the book takes old preconceptions and crushes them under the weight of better thinking. The polemical is anti-Catholic in nature, but also pretty sexist about the merits of female monarchs, whereas the Monstrous Regiment is critical of the demands of crazed religion while speaking on behalf of a much finer level of gender equality. You can work that all out for yourself, but for us it’s a very funny jab at anyone and anything that seems nonsensical to Pratchett, which we’re always big fans of.
If you’re looking for a more refined moral compass that doesn’t take itself too seriously then the writing of Terry Pratchett wouldn’t be a bad place to start and Monstrous Regiment would be up their with the best. It’s a cracking parody of war that questions all of its themes with extreme pertinence, but ultimately entertains with unrelenting humour, making it another great comic fantasy fiction outing from the master of the genre.
Terry Pratchett, Monstrous Regiment review: 4.7/5