We’ve now reached the point in the Great Terry Pratchett Re-read-athon that I think of as “quite recent”, though this may be a sign of my advancing age, as this book was first published ten years ago, which isn’t all that recent, really…
This is a story about war, and the strange things people do. Or something. It starts simply enough as being the story of Polly Perks, a young woman who cuts her hair, dresses as a boy and joins the army. She wants to find her brother, partly because he needs a bit of looking after, and partly because having him around is the only way she’ll be able to keep control of the family’s inn.
Polly lives in a small, and entirely bonkers country called Borogravia. It’s the sort of place that has trouble getting on with its neighbours, and has indeed been at war with some or all of them for centuries. The people of Borogravia worship a god called Nuggan, who is continuously revealing updates to the already quite extensive Book of Nuggan, the essence of which is that pretty much everything you can think of (and many things that you probably wouldn’t have thought of for that matter) is an Abomination. Given the, err, eccentricities of their god, it’s not altogether surprising that most of the people devote themselves more to a quite probably deceased Duchess.
Anyway, Borogravia’s neighbours have finally had enough, and as it was decided that the Clacks towers are, as you might have guessed, an Abomination, and were therefore pulled down, Ankh-Morpork is involved. In an apparent attempt to sort things out in a moderately peaceful manner, Lord Vetinari has send Sam Vimes as his representative, together with some of his Watch personnel.
Polly, under the name Oliver, is duly signed up, together with a varied collection of other recruits – a troll, a vampire, an Igor and some more or less odd humans. Led by old (quite possibly very old) hand Sergeant Jackrum, the last batch of recruits heads off to war.
It soon becomes clear that Polly isn’t the only recruit with a secret, and this leads to some very interesting adventures, about which I shall tell you precisely nothing, because that would spoil the fun.
As always, the book is liberally dosed with jokes, references and all the things you might expect from Terry. For instance, here’s Vimes in classic cynic mode on why he’s been sent to oversee matters:
Oh, well, the interests of Ankh-Morpork are the interests of all money-lov- oops, sorry, all freedom-loving people everywhere
There’s a lovely footnote about what happened when Maladict, the vampire recruit who’s substituted a craving for blood for a quite sensible craving for coffee drops a crossbow, which fires straight up into the air:
And failed to hit anything, especially a duck. This is so unusual in situations like this that it should be reported under new humour regulations. If it had hit a duck, which quacked and then landed on somebody’s head, this would have course been very droll and would certainly have been reported. Instead, it drifted in the breeze a little and landed in an oak tree some thirty feet away, where it missed a squirrel.
These being, in Discworld terms, modern times, the press are arounbd, in the form of our old friend William de Worde, and his cartoonist with the slightly suspicious name Fizz, which brings someone else to mind.
And there is, of course, much more. But I’ll leave you with the words of Sergeant Jackrum:
Upon my oath, I am not a lying man!
Which is as big a clue to what’s going on as the title of the book…
 Checks for lightning
 The ingenious semaphore system devised in Ankh-Morpork, which is spreading outwards.
 He’s known for considering war to be a crime…
 Note: if the title didn’t give you a clue, I’m not going to, so there
 Right up to the point where the coffee goes missing