The thirty-first book in an extended series, Discworld
, English author Terry Pratchett’s fantasy novel Monstrous Regiment
(2003) concerns the politically unstable country Borogravia which teeters on the edge of collapse due to its people’s obsession with a capricious god called Nuggan. Nuggan dictates, by divine rule, the preferences of Borogravia’s people, maintaining a list of forbidden things called the “Abominations Unto Nuggan.” Nuggan’s trivial, always-shifting preferences impoverish the country, throwing it into conflict with its neighbors, who follow different gods. Borogravia’s stubborn leadership fails to acknowledge its problems, which leads the story’s protagonist, Polly Perks, to join a political resistance. The novel, like the whole Discworld
series, is known for its humorous blend of contemporary political mistakes and logical fallacies within the world of fantasy, showing how systems of belief can cause civilizations to teeter into catastrophe.
Most of Monstrous Regiment
occurs within the limits of the conservative state of Borogravia. Lately, Nuggan’s decrees have grown increasingly strange; however, as people continue to follow him, his hold over them only increases, a feature of the universe of Discworld. He outlaws such things as redheads, chocolate, the color blue, children, and babies. Meanwhile, Nuggan’s physical whereabouts are unknown. Many of Borogravia’s people slowly shift their attention to their Duchess and begin praying to her instead, giving her godly powers. Meanwhile, Borogravia engages in a border dispute with Zlobenia; the actual status of the war, which Borogravia is likely losing, is constantly obfuscated by Borogravia’s leadership.
Polly Perks’s brother, Paul, has vanished after entering the Borogravian army. Polly views her brother as gullible, but most people think he is competent, slating him to become the next manager of The Duchess, the Perks family’s pub. Paul will be the sole heir, once their father dies because Nugganitic law forbids women from having their own property.
Polly leaves home in search of Paul, lest the pub be given to their cousin, a raging alcoholic. She assumes the name Private Oliver Perks, committing several Abominations. En route to join the army, she meets a fanatical corporal Strappi and a seemingly hare-brained sergeant called Jackrum. She seals her commitment to the army by kissing a painting of the Duchess. Then she is introduced to her cohort, a medley of strange people including Igor, a troll named Carborundum, and a vampire, Maladict. While posing as a man, a mysterious figure approaches her and promises to help keep her safe. She discovers that a cohort member, Lofty, is a girl, and seems to have followed her boyfriend, Tonker, into battle. Not long after, she also discovers that Shufti is a pregnant woman looking for her lover, Johnny.
Soon enough, Polly learns that her entire cohort is female with the exception of Maladict. The party is disheartened to learn that Borogravia is in dire shape: most of its militia has already fled or been taken hostage, and their rations are running out. Commander Blouse leads Polly and the others to the enemy’s Keep, where they accidentally defeat Prince Heinrich of Zlobenia. As word of their “prowess” gets around, Commander Vimes sends them more aid. Polly and the cohort stage an infiltration of the Keep in the disguises of washerwomen, intending to release the Borogravians. They succeed, retaking most of the Keep.
Polly and the rest of the cohort are taken out of battle when she reveals that they are women. They appear before a council, where Jackrum declares that many of the military’s highest ranked officials are disguised women. The Duchess, fueled by Borogravia’s belief, momentarily becomes powerful enough to possess the body of a believer named Wazzer and commands the generals to go home and fix the country.
At the end of the novel, Polly approaches Sergeant and tells him that she knows his biological sex is female. She convinces him to return to his estranged son. Meanwhile, the Sergeant’s team forges a truce with Zlobenia. Women are now allowed to serve openly, causing Maladict to come out as the female Maladicta. Polly recovers her brother and they return to the family pub. The rest of the cohort members go on to lead liberated lives, afforded many of the rights of which females had previously been deprived. As the country erupts in war once more, Polly leaves The Duchess to command a new regiment. Monstrous Regiment
, a satire on the absurdity of modern gender norms and war mongering, suggests that individuals can slowly resist and undermine the institutions and systems that oppress them.