Monstrous Regiment is the thirty first novel in the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. It’s one of the few standalone novels in the series, although there are minor characters in it who appear in other books.
It tells the story of Polly Perks, a young woman living in the small, war torn country of Borogravia. In Borogravia, women are most definitely second class citizens. In Borogravia, everyone pays fealty to the Duchess, and to the God Nuggan. Between them, the Duchess and Nuggan have got the country by the short and curlies, fighting endless wars and avoiding all the things which are an abomination unto Nuggan, which include everything from jigsaws to everything that everyone who isn’t from Borogravia does.
Polly’s brother, Paul has gone off to fight, and she decides to bring him home. The only way she can do this is by pretending to be a boy, because girls can’t join the army. She is recruited by the alarming sergeant Jackrum and joins the ‘ins and outs’. Gradually she discovers that all her fellow recruits are also women, and that the war is not going quite as successfully as official sources would have everyone think.
This is a deeply bleak and satirical look at both the effects and damage of war and pre-conceived ideas about gender. There are some laughs here, but they’re bleak ones. Pratchett skewers his points home relentlessly in this novel, and you can really see the anger bubbling close to the surface here.
I recall when I first read it, many years ago, that I didn’t really like it much. I longed for the comfort of the softer, safer Discworld I was used to, and this was jarring and unfamiliar. Reading it again now, with my son, particularly at a time when gender issues are never far from the news, it had a completely different impact on me. I wanted to send it to everyone I know and force them to read it.
I was surprised at how much Oscar enjoyed this. In fact, he told me it is his favourite book of the series so far. When he had finished it he was genuinely disappointed it was over, and even more disappointed to find that Polly and her mates don’t feature in any more of the books.