By Terry Pratchett; read by Stephen Briggs
8 Cassettes – 12 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Harper Audio
Themes: / Fantasy / Series / Humor / War / Soldiers / Feminist /
God is an extremely uneven writer, but when He’s good, nobody can touch Him.
– John William Gardner
Okay, so Terry Pratchett is not God. But he does share the Deity’s gift of inconsistent greatness. He is, at least, a genius of English prose, not content simply to write funny stories, but daring to tweak the nose of our language and showcase its penchant for both the sublime and the silly. If your ears have been trampled lately by elephantine sentences that flatten entire stories beneath them, then you should treat yourself to some Pratchett. His exquisitely chosen details and extended comic riffs will cleanse your literary palette like a chilled Riesling.
Monstrous Regiment, set in Pratchett’s private universe known as the Diskworld, is a harmless novel about war, sort of. Actually, it’s about soldiers, and about soldiers who don’t actually get much war on them, which is fortunate, because Pratchett’s humor is nowhere near dark enough to handle the strikingly unfunny hell of war. There are some touching moments, and some very funny details (like his adroit comparison of war and a large city), but they don’t add up to a great novel.
Don’t get me wrong, the story is cute enough. It concerns a girl named Polly Perks from the war-happy country of Borogravia who manages to sign herself up, against religious edict, in the armed services. Polly is a plucky and likeable heroine; her Sergeant Jackrum is irascible yet equally likeable; and her vampire, troll, Igor, and human fellow soldiers are a somewhat quirky, mysterious, yet unsurprisingly likeable bunch. Add to this a silly Lieutenant and a couple familiar characters like William DeWord and Sgt. Vimes, and you have the makings of a harmless jape that pokes fun at young men, military officers, greedy countries with pretensions to benevolence, ridiculous religious fundamentalism, and people who think with their socks. But this book is too lightweight to be much more than an amusing diversion. The Borogravians are let off too lightly for the savage devastation of their own country, the deaths that occur have little impact on anyone, and the theme of female empowerment seems diluted by excessive application. What’s more, the entire structure of the story seems slightly off-balance: The climax is anemic, and the denouement protracted.
On the audio side, however, this book is a joy. Stephen Briggs is billed on the cover as a disturbingly devoted Pratchett fan, which nearly frightened me off. But have no fear, the man can read well, too. His voice conjures the entire cast of Monty Python as well as some note-perfect monster stereotypes, and he nimbly handles Pratchett’s playful prose, both in the small turns of phrase that pepper the story throughout and in the occasional extended verbal set pieces. He gives these inspired moments the space they deserve, like old Aunt Audrey waving her arms to clear a room before performing her world-famous flying back flip off the china cabinet.
All in all, this is an amusing but sub-par work from a master of humorous fantasy. If you’ve never read Pratchett before, I recommend dropping a brick on your little toe for punishment, and then picking up The Colour of Magic, Guards! Guards!, or The Thief of Time. You can save this one for later, when you still want to laugh and think, but not so hard.
Posted by Kurt Dietz