Terry Pratchett,
Monstrous Regiment
(HarperCollins, 2003)

Terry Pratchett scores again with another satirical look at life via the denizens of Discworld.

The population of the tiny country of Borogravia worship the god Nuggan, a rather capricious god who tends to declare Abominations randomly; in Borogravia, devout worshippers avoid such Abominations unto Nuggan as oysters, cats and jigsaw puzzles, and guiltily try to get round the concepts of babies and the color blue.

Polly Perks is well aware that a woman wearing the clothes of a man is an Abomination unto Nuggan, but if somebody doesn't retrieve her brother Paul from the army, or at least find out whether he's dead or alive, her family could lose their prosperous inn, the Duchess, should her father die without a male heir, a woman operating a business being an Abomination unto you-know-who.

So Polly cuts her hair, puts on a pair of breeches and, now transformed into Oliver, sets off to join the army. She's joined by a scraggly handful of recruits, including a temperate vampire, an Igor and a troll, and they set off under the command of veteran soldier Sergeant Jackrum and the detestable Corporal Scrappi. With a little practice, not to mention a well-placed pair of socks, Polly could pass for any of them.

But she's also becoming uneasy about their situation. It has come to her attention that there aren't many young men left to recruit, Borogrovia being a small country given to declaring war on other countries the way some people change, well, socks. This war machine has eaten up a chunk of the population the country can ill afford, and when Polly isn't thinking with her socks, she's trying to figure out how the whole mess can be stopped. Fortunately, she isn't alone -- in more ways than one.

Sam Vimes is also present, appearing as a presence from Ankh-Morpork trying to end the fighting, and the squad is followed and covered by William de Worde of the Ankh-Morpork Times and his trusty vampire photographer Otto. They are agents of change in Borogrovia, and by the time Polly, Jackrum and Pratchett are through, things will never be the same again.

One might expect that after so many Discworld novels, there might be nothing left for Pratchett to mine, but one would expect incorrectly. Each book is better than the last, not only because it builds on the whole Discworld phenomenon but also because Pratchett fine-tunes his wit with each novel. Furthermore, our governments and leaders keep handing him material too good to ignore!

In Monstrous Regiment, however, Pratchett also offers the reader a tight plot and plenty of surprises right up until the end. The characters are terrific: Polly, her co-soldiers, Sergeant Jackrum, the somewhat feckless "rupert" Lt. Blouse come alive in vivid deft descriptions and the humor is laugh-out-loud priceless. In fact, I had so much fun reading Monstrous Regiment, I'm sure that I'm now an Abomination unto Nuggan.

- Rambles
written by Donna Scanlon
published 29 November 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.