This, the 28th (or 29th, depending) novel of Discworld is an abomination unto Nuggan. Of course, Accordian players, the color blue, rocks... in fact it is difficult to find something that isn't an abomination unto Nuggan, God of Borogravia. That having been said, this is one of Terry Pratchett's slyest, darkest, and yet wondrous and fulfilling, forays into that mad mirror to our world, the universe of Discworld.
The story starts with Polly Perks, innkeeper's daughter, cutting off her hair, and slipping out into the early morning as "Oliver Perks", off to join the old Ins And Outs of the Borogravian army, in search of her gentle, and lost brother Paul. There are a lot of little throwaways in this book, as evidently Terry is a fan of folk music, so the old English folk songs, "Polly Oliver", "Johnny's Gone For A Soldier", "Jackie Munroe", and others set many of the themes the book is built around.
Terry has looked at many things of our world through the lens of Discworld, such as the Faust theme, Phantom of the Opera, Rock and Roll, Newspapers, Hollywood, and so on, but now he takes on War. Borogravia is a tiny duchy which finds itself constantly at war with its neighboring countries. "We're a proud country. And that's what we're proud of. We're proud of being proud."
As Polly enlists, she's joined by others. A vampire, a troll, an Igor (famous as assistants to mad scientists, they are a joy on the Napoleonic-style battlefields of Discworld. If they don't have the hands of a surgeon when they start, no doubt they'll run across another Igor somewhere willing to transplant a pair...) and other assorted young misfits. But is it these, what we would call, monsters, who make this a "Monstrous Regiment"? Actually, no. The title refers back to a screed by 16th century pamphleteer John Knox who wrote a book called "The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women", mostly a diatribe against the Catholic Queens of England, and detailing how it was an affront against God for women to be in positions of authority and the military.
It is interesting. I was reading another review of Monstrous Regiment wherein they determined that the book was well written but not very subtle. I'm afraid he missed a lot. I really don't want to go into a lot of detail on this book, as the plotting is tight, and spoilers could abound. Monstrous Regiment, like Night Watch is not a knee slapper. Certainly there are parts that make you laugh out loud. There are parts that make you misty-eyed. There are parts that make you think.
Is the best man for the job a woman? Why is the Nugganantic Holy book a loose-leaf binder so that readers can slip in new blank pages? What happens when a vampire re-affixes his addiction to blood to an addiction to coffee?
Well, I could blather on, but I won't, but as an aside, I'm reading The Annotated Wizard of Oz and I could seriously imagine someone in a few years putting together an "Annotated Monstrous Regiment". There are so many deliberate references to things like, for example, the Magdalene Laundries of Ireland that one could spend a long time playing "spot the reference".
Terry Pratchett just keeps getting better and better, and unlike the "pitcher that went to the well once too often", his well is still very deep, and filled with the water of wisdom.
Copyright © 2004 by Jerry Wright