Team Mecha Dragons
Synthetic leather wings cut through the cool night air. A snap of electrical discharge, a quick whiff of ozone, and they are gone. Long have the techno-mages tried—and failed—to study these mysterious creatures. The Mecha Dragons have left their eyries, and they are READING.
- Jeremiah (Special Guest Star and regular of Team Wizard People)
Book 4: Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett
War has come to Discworld … again.
And, to no one’s great surprise, the conflict centers around the small, arrogantly fundamentalist duchy of Borogravia, which has long prided itself on its unrelenting aggressiveness. A year ago, Polly Perks’s brother marched off to battle, and Polly’s willing to resort to drastic measures to find him. So she cuts off her hair, dons masculine garb, and, aided by a well-placed pair of socks, sets out to join this man’s army. Since a nation in such dire need of cannon fodder can’t afford to be too picky, Polly is eagerly welcomed into the fighting fold—along with a vampire, a troll, an Igor, a religious fanatic, and two uncommonly close “friends.” It would appear that Polly “Ozzer” Perks isn’t the only grunt with a secret. But duty calls, the battlefield beckons. And now is the time for all good … er … “men” to come to the aid of their country.
What did you think of the book’s setting?
Katie: First of all, I just want to throw it out there that, like most Pratchett books I’ve read, I love it with nearly all my heart and soul.
Bo: The setting was one of the few things I didn’t love completely and entirely. But only because everything else was so amazing that it wasn’t quite as amazing.
Katie: I’m not sure how the setting would play to someone who hasn’t read a Discworld book before, though?
Pricilla: Setting as in the Discworld itself?
Katie Walkowiak: I’d imagine it feels a little generic?
Bo: Yes. I’ve never read Discworld and that might be why the setting didn’t thrill me.
Jeremiah: Yeah, the setting feels secondary even though the idea of the setting seems to take primacy.
Ian: Having read other Discworld books before, this one didn’t trouble itself too much with the lore. If I’m not mistaken this is a more recent one? So maybe it presupposes a lot of that knowledge. But I don’t feel like it would have been tough for those not familiar.
Pricilla: Don’t hate me for it, but… the setting was one of my least favorite parts of the book. It’s not bad, but I’ve never read any of the other Discworld books and sometimes it felt like a lot of fantasy elements put in a blender. I’m not a big fan of parody-Earth fantasy settings to boot. I know most fantasy worlds are based on Earth, mostly Medieval Europe, but they still feel like their own thing. Discworld felt a little bit too much of a version of Earth.
Ian: I stand corrected?
Jeremiah: I think so, because it doesn’t really go into detail about Ankh-Morph so I’m assuming Pratchett is just betting you’ve read a book of his before.
Katie: My first Discworld book was set in Ankh-Morpork, which is a fantastic setting. This one was a bit more “generic fantasy” but hints of other places and people I recognized went pretty far in making it feel nice and lived-in. If I hadn’t read others, I think I’d be ‘meh’
Pricilla: Yeah, I was curious about Ankh-Morpork. I feel I missed a lot of references to places, people, etc. that were somewhere in the previous 30 Discworld books. With Earthsea, we also had constant hints of a much bigger and richer world than the one in the novel, but it worked for me perhaps because that was the first book in the series and I didn’t feel like I was missing anything.
Bo: Borogravia was very well imagined, but comically so. Which seemed to be the point so I didn’t mind.
Pricilla: Yes, that’s true.
Ian: I did like the setting, which was filled with the usual amount of Pratchett irreverence.
Jeremiah: Plus he spent a lot of time fleshing out the Duchess and Nuggan.
Katie: I thought Borogravia was probably a bit too easy of a satire target? It didn’t bother me, really. I would get it as a criticism, though.
Pricilla: The book still works as a standalone novel, but I’m a bit obsessive with worldbuilding, so the constant feeling of missing things bothered me a bit. A minor issue, though.
Did the characters resonate with you? What did you think of them in general?
Jeremiah: I loved Polly.
Katie: I loved Polly, Jackrum, and Maladict(a) especially.
Bo: I love, love, LOVE the characters. I will forgive a lot for good characters and this had amazing characters.
Jeremiah: Great characters can make a horrible story bearable.
Katie: Blouse grew on me.
Ian: They were all pretty great, the “regiment”.
Pricilla: Same with me, Bo, if you get me good characters I’m 50% in. They really worked for me, the entire monstrous regiment was fun to follow. I like how the recruits start as pretty generic at first and then they all get a life of their own.
Ian: My particular favorite was Jade. Just because.
Katie: Yeah, there’s no one I disliked. Pratchett is great at taking larger-than-life types and keeping them emotionally resonant and grounded (relatively speaking).
Bo: Polly has to be my favorite. Sorry to be generic.
Katie: Nah, Polly is great. So great!
Pricilla: Polly was my favorite too, her POV was delightful to follow. I like how she’s smart and resourceful, but in a believable way considering her Borogravian cultural background.
Ian: The only thing it was missing was a lady dwarf complete with beard.
Bo: Totally right, Ian. The lady dwarf was the only thing missing.
Jeremiah: But Polly was just this awesome intelligent brave and very proud character.
Katie: I liked that she was smart and capable but in a very believable way that makes sense with her background.
Bo: That’s a major high point of the story, how we follow Polly and see how she can get so much done. She never just knows things. There’s always a good explanation or line of reasoning.
Katie: She was so good at what she was doing but was also very believably naive and prudish sometimes, which I liked.
Jeremiah: Jackrum is a scene stealer for sure. But it’s his shades that make him interesting.
Pricilla: Yeah, I found myself liking Jackrum a lot more than expected.
Ian: #Spoilers So how early did we all figure out Jackrum was a woman as well?
Katie: Haha! good question
Ian: I had my suspicions pretty early on.
Jeremiah: Well, this is the second time I’ve read this book. Naively I didn’t realize until the end.
Bo: I expected it by the 75% point, but I kind of hoped Jackrum was just a man.
Pricilla: Yeah, me too. Hah. In a way after a while I kind of expected all of them to be women, but it always surprised me a tiny bit?
Bo: Especially when you find out his leverage on the army.
Ian: For a micro-second I thought he might actually be the Duchess.
Katie: I was suspicious as soon as we found out 3-4 of the regiment were women, but without any base behind it. #SPOILERSAHOY! I was more surprised at the general and top brass being women than Jackrum
Ian: Yeah, same.
Pricilla: Yeah, exactly, once we learned pretty much everyone was a woman, I assumed we would be getting more of those reveals.
What didn’t work with the novel?
Katie: NOTHING. (just kidding) I think it probably could have used a bit more editing—it’s longer than it needs to be. I like Pratchett’s style so much, though, that it doesn’t really bother me.
Jeremiah Sherman: I loved Tonker and her pyro gf. I just really loved Polly trying to wrap her mind around it.
Bo: The ending wasn’t a favorite part of mine.
Katie: Ooh, really? I liked the end a lot.
Jeremiah: I loved the end.
Bo: I thought it just kind of happened, and I wanted more about the how of it. It’s the Tolkien fan in me.
Jeremiah: Oh, so you want the boring.
Bo: I also wish Polly had a different ending, but that’s purely personal preference.
Ian: I pretty much liked all of it. Beginning. Middle. End. All good.
Katie: *is confused, doesn’t know how to argue* I LOVED Polly’s ending. And I liked how messy and open-ended it all was
Jeremiah: Well. it goes to the point of Pratchett’s worldview. It is all messy and open-ended.
Katie: Yes. This may be getting into other things (and spoilers), but I very much liked how the big gender reveal went.
Pricilla: Most of what didn’t work for me were the setting issues I mentioned. I’m not a big fan of fantasy settings where I don’t know what to expect. Like, I wouldn’t expect a Mecha Dragon to be part of A Song of Ice and Fire. But I feel like anything and everything could be a part of the Discworld and this bothers me a bit. I’ll give a discount because I haven’t read the other books and I would probably have a different impression then.
Also connected to setting, it’s a pet peeve of mine when patriarchal societies are treated as default. I get both the Doylist and Watsonian reasons why Borogravia is so conservative and patriarchal, and it allows an interesting exploration of that kind of society. But the Igors seem to be their own thing, and they’re presented as quite sexist as well. Why? Why everyone has to be sexist in fantasy always?
Katie: Nah, you’re probably right about that, Priscilla! It’s kinda haphazard? But also thoughtful? I dunno, I”ve only read like five of them.
Bo Costa: We’re getting there, Katie.
Ian: The only bit I didn’t really care for was… Er… Nothing I guess.
Jeremiah: Well, I think Pratchett is saying even in fantasy you have to deal with this stuff.
Katie: Yeah—I think you picked up on it before when you said that Discworld is kind like fantasy earth. It’s more than that, but it’s also very much part of Pratchett’s point I think.
Pricilla: Yeah, but… women have the right to have escapist fiction too! I don’t need to be reminded all the time that the world is sexist and thinks I’m lesser. And when you invent a world and you keep the same problems from the one you already have, it’s like saying those problems couldn’t be different.
Katie: Oh, totally! But I also appreciate fantasy fiction that uses an alternative setting to work through real problems. I think there’s room for both.
Jeremiah: I’m with Katie. Pratchett has a bit of a disdain for that type of Tolkien type of fantasy. Where people behave nobly without any real flaws and people have cities and town without any really kind of set up.
Bo: Since we’re all itching to get back to the positive…
What did work with the novel?
Katie: ALL OF IT. *just kidding* #notreallytho
Bo: The interactions of the squad were stupidly perfect.
Ian: Well, since I read Going Postal before, I liked the bit with the clacks.
Bo: How were they all so perfect?
Katie: Pratchett’s sense of humor is really great for me. I laugh out loud on the regular, and I don’t do that all that often with books.
Ian: But my favorite thing about Pratchett is his style. His goofy roundabout jokes and asides are my jam.
Pricilla: Okay, now the good bits: everything else, really. The book is amazing and what works makes up for what doesn’t, and what doesn’t work is not that much of a problem anyway.
Bo: I also loved (and was surprised) by how…right all of the Regiment’s victories are. They’re all so small and believable, yet had such impact.
Katie: Yes! That’s a great point, Bo.
Pricilla: Yes, good point Bo.
Ian: Yes, Bo I like how they use counterintelligence also.
Jeremiah: I loved how Blouse was smart in his own way.
Katie: Yeah! I really wasn’t expecting that from Blouse. I loved it.
Bo: Blouse grew so much on me.
Ian: Yes, Blouse seemed laughable at first, but he had his own specialty.
Pricilla: Yeah, he starts as just a stupid Rupert and he grows on you
Jeremiah: Well, also he stands up for the regiment.
Bo: I love how his disguise didn’t work at all but everyone just let it work since he did all the ironing.
Pricilla: I love the characters and the dynamics between them.I love how the entire book just grows on you. When I started, it was pleasant but okay, then it was good, then it was really good, then it was great, and so on
Jeremiah: Well, the men couldn’t tell.
Katie: The little joke about 2/3 or 3/4 way though about how he wanted to be like one of those famous commanders that got food or an article of clothing named after them made me laugh harder than it should have.
Pricilla: YES, hahaha.
Ian: Didn’t they name fingerless gloves after him?
Katie: Haha, yes! Pratchett is so good about taking something charming and goofy and then making you really care about it by the end. It must be so hard.
Bo: Oh my god, that’s just hitting me about how good a joke that is. Dude’s name is Blouse. Jeez, Bo.
Katie: I know! It took me a minute to get it!
Pricilla: Hahaha! I actually couldn’t stop thinking that “blouse” was a weird name, so I got the joke right away.
Jeremiah: Well also he doesn’t make any references to Blouse or how it’s a funny name. He’s just Blouse. It’s like the tiny town of Bad Ass in the Ramtop Mountains.
What are your overall thoughts?
Jeremiah: I love Pratchett. I loved this book. I’ve read it twice.
Katie: I feel like the words “charming” and “delightful” exist to describe Terry Pratchett books, and this one didn’t dissuade me. It’s in the upper tier of ones that I’ve read so far in that I found it super funny and fun, but also surprisingly moving?
Pricilla: The book is amazing. Whatever it doesn’t get right is compensated by what it does. Pratchett’s style is so good after a while you just trust him to take you wherever he wants. You know he’ll give you a good story.
Jeremiah: I’m always amazed by how moving his books are. Like deep in the bones emotional sometimes.
Pricilla: Yes, it’s a funny book but it’s not shallow funny.
Bo: This was a delight in every sense of the word. So much humor and such great characters. It’s all I could ask for.
Ian: Overall thoughts: this is a great book and a worthy addition to the Discworld canon. Having said that, it is maybe not the best to start with ad far as Discworld books go. I can’t say which one that is, as I haven’t read them all, but this one is good, and even if you’re not familiar with the setting, jump right in.
Katie: I read Guards, Guards first and I would highly recommend that as an intro. I wasn’t at first sure how I felt about the ending. But I really liked that the girls weren’t just heroes and that was that. I liked that they dealt with the idea that they were essentially mascots, and that everyone would expect them to continue doing that or go back to their old lives. And how Polly is aware of that, and how it influences what decisions she makes next.
Jeremiah: Equal Rites is a good one also to start with.
Katie: Sam Vimes (THE BUTCHER) is the star of that one. Aww, yeah, Equal Rites is fun.
Jeremiah: I LOVE Vimes.
Katie: Vimes is one of my favorite fictional characters. He’s just the best.
Bo: I’m probably going to read every Discworld book I have time for now.
Pricilla: Yes. Like I said, having read just this Discworld book I can tell it works as a standalone novel, but it perhaps won’t give you the best impression of the potential of the Discworld. I would probably read them in order, because I’m that kind of person.
Ian: I read Colour of Magic first because I like to begin at the beginning. I liked it.
Katie: Yeah, people warned me about the Colour of Magic but I liked it.
Ian: I thought it gets a bad rap.
Jeremiah: It’s funny. I don’t know why it gets such a bad rap. I mean for a first book it’s pretty damn good.
Pricilla: Discworld books can be so intimidating because the series is huge, so starting with a standalone novel isn’t bad.
Bo: Hopefully some of these other books will have a female Mecha-Dragon.
Ian: *female mecha-dragon noises* (Which are basically the same)
Pricilla: *male mecha-dragon noises* #BecauseWHYNOT???