Review: “Monstrous Regiment” by Terry Pratchett

“Monstrous Regiment” is a Discworld novel. The protagonist, Polly, is the bar maid in her family’s inn. In her country, only men can inherit. With her brother off to war, the family inn will pass to a distant relative if her aging father dies. To find her brother, she cuts her hair short, dons her brother’s clothes, and goes off to join the military. A vampire, a troll, and an Igor soon join the recruiting party along with three young lads. These are the last able bodied men in the country. They are joining the losing war against most of their neighboring countries. Official announcements don’t say that. They along with their recruiters and the training teams are being sent to the front. The provisions man has a hook for one hand and two wooden legs. The uniforms and weapons are old, worn, and frequently blood stained.

Many of Terry’s themes are here. Headology (zig when everyone else zags) is all through this story. The mentor-talented mentee relationship (think Granny Weatherwax and Tiffany Aching) is here. Plot twists are here aplenty, all inventive, none gratuitous, or deux ex machina. There is an odd god or two.

The other three lads are indistinguishable at first. As their back stories emerge, they become distinct individuals with talents to move the plot forward.

The story behind the story is women confronting mens’ stereotypes, prejudices, and discrimination against women. Terry’s wife is co-listed on the copyright. She kept him aware. There appear to be others.

In 1990, Terry and Neil Gaiman co-wrote “Good Omens”. It is not obvious to me which sections were written by who. Hidden identity was not a theme in Terry’s writing at the time. It was and is a frequent theme in Neil’s stories, including characters who don’t know that they are who they think they are. “Monstrous Regiment” was written in 2002. Hidden identities is all through this book, though no identity hidden from the characters themselves.

There are few characters from other Discworld novels. Trolls, vampires, and Igors are frequent characters, just not these individuals. Samuel Vimes from the Night Guards plays a key role. Death makes a cameo appearance. William de Worde, reporter for the Anhk-Moorpork Times, appears here and in several Discworld novels and does his photographer, another vampire.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading “Monstrous Regiment” a second time. I stayed up past midnight several times to read it.

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