Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Monstrous Regiment

by Terry Pratchett


Another six months have passed, so another Discworld novel arrives. Fortunately this relentless output doesn't always affect the quality of Terry Pratchett's writing. In Monstrous Regiment, Polly Perks cuts off her hair and poses as a man in order to join the army. She wants to find out what has happened to her brother, who she has not heard word of for a long time.

Borogravia is always at war. It's the kind of mountainous backwater where a skirt and long hair is all it takes to pass for a female. The national god, Nuggan, has gone insane and declares everything from chocolate to cats to be an Abomination. And everywhere the portrait of the Duchess stares down at people, watching. Remind you of anywhere?

In a war where soldiers are trickling back from the front missing limbs and comrades, if they return at all, a girl would need a compelling reason to want to join up. In fact all the recruits have different reasons for making a career choice that most would see as suicidal. The regiment is called Monstrous because it includes a troll, a vampire, and an igor, but those aren't the most remarkable things about it.

Polly's disguise doesn't hold very well, because on the night of joining up she is offered a second pair of socks to help her look manly by an anonymous soldier. She's not the only one with secrets. The bullyish Corporal Strappi watches the recruits' every move, a spy for his own side.

The war is pointless, the country is starving, and defeat seems inevitable. In characteristic Pratchett style however it's not a bleak story at all. This is a satire on repressive regimes and religious absurdity, but most of all it's about female empowerment. It's a more gripping read because the parallels with real life are strong.

Polly Perks is smart, fiery, and knows how to fight dirty thanks to a childhood spent working in a pub. It's not obvious what she hopes to achieve when she finds her feckless older brother, but at least she has the courage to try to do something. Vimes and some of the Ankh-Morpork city guards have bit-parts in the role of peacekeepers. But Sergeant Jackrum, Polly, and the rest of the regiment are the stars. There's a real sense of paranoia and impending death to this story, but they get through it without losing their sense of humour. Monstrous Regiment is a return to form for Terry Pratchett, enjoyable and deadly serious fun.

Book Details

Year: 2003

Categories: Books

  Female Protagonist  

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4 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson

More about Terry Pratchett


Philip Chalmers     21st November, 2005 23:01pm

My wife's not a confirmed Pratchett fan (I am!), but I knew within a few pages that she'd love "Monstrous Regiment" - and she did!

Perhaps that coloured my judgement, but I thought "Monstrous Regiment" was one of Pratchett's best - satire (on machismo, bigotry, bureaucracy), gags and above all really engaging characters most of whom had a good back-story to give them depth.