The Barnes & Noble Review
In Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel Monstrous Regiment, war has come once again to the realm. Polly Perks, an unassuming barmaid from Borogravia, cuts her hair, pretends to be a young man, and joins the army in hopes of finding her brother Paul, who marched off to war a year ago and hasn't been heard from in months. But once in uniform, she gets a cold dose of reality. Instead of going through extensive military training, Polly and the other recruits are immediately sent to the front. And to make matters worse, word is that Borogravia is badly losing the war. Enemy forces are everywhere and many Borogravian soldiers are deserting or surrendering.
Led by Lieutenant Blouse, a nearsighted academic who couldn't fight his way out of a paper bag, the regiment of misfits realize they're as good as dead if they blindly follow Blouse into battle. The second-in-command, Sergeant Jolly Jack Jackrum -- a legendary monster of a soldier who has been in the army longer than anyone can remember -- takes control of the regiment by using Blouse as a puppet leader. Jackrum is a man's man - the foul-mouthed, tobacco-chewing sergeant can outfight, outstrategize, and outdrink anyone. As the battles intensify, however, Jackrum realizes the majority of the regiment are women!
Monstrous Regiment will have readers laughing out loud in places and fighting back tears in others. This is a classic Pratchett: clever, satirical, and brilliantly constructed -- an absolute must-read for Discworld fans. Sergeant Jolly Jack Jackrum is arguably Pratchett's most unforgettable character to date.
Paul Goat Allen
The New York Times
Monstrous Regiment is most often spirited and shambolic, but it has some serious heft. Pratchett is on the side of those who make very little fuss, which means he gets to shiv those who do.
The Washington Post
Is war woman's work after all? Mate gender politics with geopolitics and you get either a PC nightmare or something very funny. Fortunately, in Monstrous Regiment it's the latter. Pratchett takes full and unfairly hilarious advantage of the opportunity to skewer everything from military court martials to male swagger. ("At least women swung only their hips. Young men swung everything, from the shoulders down.")
Polly Perks, a Borogravian bar wench, disguises herself as a boy and sets out to join the army in search of her missing brother, Paul. She masters the masculine arts, learning to belch and scratch, and follows advice to "walk like a puppet that'd had a couple random strings cut, never hug anyone, and, if you meet a friend, punch them." Her enlistment is accepted without question. The regiment is completed by a pair of runaway lovers, a religious fanatic, a troll, a vampire, and a lisping zombie. Polly's identity seems safe until, when in the latrine, a strange voice suggests that she stuff a pair of socks in her slacks to enhance her disguise. She soon discovers, however, that everyone has a secret-that they are all women except for their commanding officer, Lieutenant Blouse. On the brink of defeat, Polly's misfit regiment is Borogravia's last hope. Their other troops are dead or horribly wounded. Through humor, mishap, sheer luck, and a lot of free publicity, these bizarre soldiers resolve the conflict. Apparently, women know how to win a war. In a novel full of double entendre, a pun lurks around every corner of this latest Discworld romp. Considering that the greatest honor for a Borogravian officer is to have an item of clothing named for him, this book might be the world's longest joke. In typical Pratchett fashion, truths are uncovered through humor. The author excels at making people see themselves and their countries in a different light. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2003, HarperCollins,353p., Ages 11 to 18.
Nancy K. Wallace
When war hits Discworld, Polly joins the army dressed as a man. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Twenty-ninth in Pratchett's Discworld series (Night Watch, 2002), kicked off twenty years ago with The Color of Magic. Proud of nothing but the fact that they're Borogravians, the inhabitants of said Borogravia produce no desired exports, worship a god with a predilection for making insane pronouncements, and have a tendency to declare war every so often on each of their neighbors just for the hell of it. This time out, Pratchett takes the reader far from the series' usual setting-the mercenary, madcap town of Ankh-Morpork-and instead sets the story in this Balkans-esque madhouse during yet another war in which Borogravia is being ganged up on by just about all of its neighbors. As an Ankh-Morporkian puts it: "The little countries here fought because of the river, because of idiot treaties, because of royal rows, but mostly they fought because they had always fought. They made war, in fact, because the sun came up." The "Monstrous" regiment in question is a band of Borogravian recruits marching off to the front line, unaware that the war has pretty much already been lost. It's a ragged and seemingly unsoldierly group, too. Polly, Pratchett's hero, is a young woman disguised as a man who's looking for her simple-minded brother Paul, who signed up already and whom she fears dead. There's also Maladict, a recovering vampire who hasn't drunk blood for quite some time now, tank you very much. Filling out the ranks, meanwhile, are Igor (a Frankenstein-like creature with an exaggerated lisp), a giant troll, and a sergeant so ancient and war-ravaged that calling him "crusty" barely covers it. As usual with Pratchett, the plot wanders off into the bushes every 30 pages or so just to have a lookaround and see whether anything funny is going on. Fortunately, something usually is, thanks to Pratchett's droll satire that isn't afraid to stoop to things like cross-dressing to get a giggle. Surprisingly meaningful but never short of hilarious: a monstrous success for Pratchett. Author tour
From the Publisher
"You ride along on his tide of out-landish invention, realizing that you are in the presence of a true original among contemporary writers — a fantasist who loves naff humour and silly names, and yet whose absurd world is, at heart, a serious portrait of the jingoistic fears that keep us at each other’s throats’"
Read an Excerpt
By Terry Pratchett
Harper Collins Publishers Copyright © 2003 Terry Pratchett All right reserved. ISBN: 006001315X
Polly cut off her hair in front of the mirror, feeling slightly guilty about not feeling very guilty about doing so. It was supposed to be her crowning glory, and everyone said it was beautiful, but she generally wore it in a net when she was working. She'd always told herself it was wasted on her. Yet she was careful to see that the long golden coils all landed on the small sheet spread out for the purpose.
If she would admit to any strong emotion at all at this time, it was sheer annoyance that a haircut was all she needed to pass for a young man. She didn't even need to bind up her bosom, which she'd heard was the normal practice. Nature had seen to it that she had barely any problems in this area.
The effect that the scissors had was ... erratic, but it was no worse than other male haircuts here. It'd do.
She did feel cold on the back of her neck, but that was only partly because of the loss of her long hair. It was also because of the Stare.
The Duchess watched her from above the bed.
It was a poor woodcut, hand-colored, mostly in blue and red. It was of a plain, middle-aged woman whose sagging chin and slightly bulging eyes gave the cynical the feeling that someone had put a large fish in a dress, but the artist had managed tocapture something extra in that strange, blank expression. Some pictures had eyes that followed you around the room; this one looked right through you. It was a face you found in every home. In Borogravia, you grew up with the Duchess watching you.
Polly knew her parents had one of the pictures in their room, and knew also that when her mother was alive she used to curtsy to it every night.
She reached up and turned this picture around so that it faced the wall.
A thought in her head said No. It was overruled. She'd made up her mind.
Then she dressed herself in her brother's clothes, tipped the contents of the sheet into a small bag that went into the bottom of her pack along with the spare clothes, put a note to her father on her bed, picked up the pack, and climbed out of the window. At least, Polly climbed out of the window, but it was Oliver's feet that landed lightly on the ground.
Dawn was just turning the dark world into monochrome when she slipped across the inn's yard.
The Duchess watched her from the inn sign, too. Her father had been a great loyalist, at least up to the death of her mother. The sign hadn't been repainted this year, and a random bird-dropping had given the Duchess a squint.
Polly checked that the recruiting sergeant's cart was still in front of the bar, its bright banners now drab and heavy with last night's rain. By the look of that big fat sergeant, it would be hours before it was on the road again. She had plenty of time. He looked like a slow breakfaster.
She let herself out of the door in the back wall and headed uphill.
At the top, she turned back and looked at the waking town. Smoke was rising from a few chimneys, but since Polly was always the first to wake, and she yelled the maids out of their beds, the inn was still sleeping. She knew that the Widow Clambers had stayed overnight (it had been "raining too hard for her to go home," according to Polly's father) and, personally, she hoped for his sake that she'd stay every night. The town had no shortage of widows, for Nuggan's sake, and Olga Clambers was a warm-hearted lady who baked like a champion. His wife's long illness and Paul's long absence had taken a lot out of her father. Polly was glad some of it was put back. The old ladies who spent their days glowering from their windows might spy and peeve and mumble, but they had been doing that for too long. No one listened anymore.
She raised her gaze. Smoke and steam were already rising from the laundry of the Girls' Working School. The building hung over one end of the town like a threat, big and gray with tall, thin windows. It was always silent.
When she was small, she'd been told that was where The Bad Girls went. The nature of "badness" was not explained, and at the age of five Polly had received the vague idea that it consisted of not going to bed when you were told. At the age of eight she'd learned it was where you were lucky not to go for buying your brother a paint box.
She turned her back and set off between the trees, which were full of birdsong.
Forget you were ever Polly. Think young male, that was the thing. Fart loudly and with self-satisfaction at a job well done, walk like a puppet that'd had a couple of random strings cut, never hug anyone, and, if you meet a friend, punch them. A few years working in the bar had provided plenty of observational material. No problem about not swinging her hips, at least. Nature had been pretty sparing there, too.
And then there was the young-male walk to master. At least women swung only their hips. Young men swung everything, from the shoulders down. You have to try to occupy a lot of space, she thought. It makes you look bigger, like a tomcat fluffing his tail. She'd seen it a lot in the inn. The boys tried to walk big in self-defense against all those other big boys out there. I'm bad, I'm fierce, I'm cool, I'd like a pint of shandy and me mam wants me home by nine ...
Excerpted from Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett
Copyright © 2003 by Terry Pratchett
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.