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 look around 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.