The Discworld Reread: Book 21
When a mysterious island rises abruptly out of the sea, right under his boat, fisherman Solid Jackson knows precisely what he’s going to do. He’s going to claim that land in the name of Ankh-Morpork and become a national hero, no question about it. Unfortunately for Solid, he isn’t the only one present at the moment of the island’s apparition, and his great rival Arif promptly decides that it actually belongs to his own country, Al-Khali. As the fishermen scurry home to inform their respective governments, their dispute swiftly escalates to the level of international diplomacy… and worse. While this book sparkles with all Pratchett’s characteristic verve, reading it is a mitigated pleasure, because a satire on the stupidity of racial intolerance, hate crimes and the futility of war feels so bloody pertinent in the modern world. And, unlike the good citizens of Ankh-Morpork, we don’t even have Sam Vimes and the City Watch standing by to save us…
Emotions are febrile in Ankh-Morpork. The Patrician is being plagued by members of the nobility, who see war as a chance to dig out the armour, smite a few foreigners and add to the family legends. Demagogues are whipping up the mob into a xenophobic frenzy. Hard-working Klatchian families in the city – many of them born and bred in Ankh-Morpork – have been attacked and told to go ‘home’. When the brother of the Seriph of Al-Khali is seriously wounded during a diplomatic visit, things only get worse. And when, at last, the Patrician is deposed and replaced by a war council of nobles, it looks as if Ankh-Morpork is very firmly up a creek without a paddle. Unfortunately for Sam Vimes, he seems to be one of the few right-headed people left in the city and, to his disgust, it looks like he might have to try and save the day again. Possibly while wearing a very silly ceremonial costume. The thing is, the more he studies the situation, the more complicated it seems. If someone really was trying to assassinate the Prince (and that’s debatable), was that person really from Ankh-Morpork? Or is Vimes up against a plot of devilish complexity, designed to force Ankh-Morpork into a war it isn’t ready for? And who is 71-Hour Ahmed, the Prince’s mysterious companion?
The Watch books are always wonderful and, although Jingo does on one hand have a grand international perspective, we still get to spend a lot of time with our favourite band of lawkeepers. Much continues as usual, even in the face of war. Vimes is struggling to come to terms with his new noble status. Carrot is casually brilliant while managing to be shrewdly naive at any mention of the Ankh-Morpork monarchy. Angua worries about where she really belongs. And Corporal Nobbs, much to everyone’s alarm, has decided to explore his sexuality and is wondering how to get a girlfriend. Yet each also has their own special role to play in what’s to come, and that’s especially true for Sergeant Colon and Nobby, who find themselves seconded to a top secret mission with the Patrician, which takes them into regions (both geographically and sartorially) that they could never have imagined before. These characters are all so well-developed by this stage that Pratchett can use them to create stories far more complex and, I think, more deeply satirical, than those in the standalone books or the Rincewind novels, which still seem to rely on situational comedy as opposed to the sharper, more cutting wit of the Watch or Witches books. Where Jingo differs from the other Watch books (so far) is that some of the story takes place out of Ankh-Morpork – a daring decision, but one that pays off, with the chance for some rather delightful Lawrence of Arabia allusions.
It is fun – but perhaps not quite as fun now as it was when it was published, because the world has changed and become a darker, crueller, less tolerant place. Still, it’s always good to spend time with the Watch. As an amusing aside, I recently found out that my (rather tall) boyfriend was cast as Carrot in his school’s production of Guards! Guards!. They even dyed his hair red but, in an unfortunate oversight, it turned out to be permanent dye rather than wash-out. Needless to say, I have requested photographic evidence… And thus, for now, it’s time to once again leave Ankh-Morpork, because for the next book in the reread we’ll be heading to the distant and mysterious continent of Four-Ecks, where the hapless Rincewind was deposited at the end of Interesting Times.
By the way, anyone who’s itching to tell me that I’ve missed out Book 20… you’re right. I felt it just wasn’t appropriate to read Hogfather in the midst of a hot summer, but as soon as the damp and dreary autumn sets in, I’ll be heading back to rectify that – especially because I’ve always rather enjoyed it…
More Paul Kidby goodness. To the left: Leonard of Quirm (note the Titanic / Leonardo da Vinci mashup of the female nude just above and to the right of his head). To the right: the unique entertainment act of Gulli, Gulli and Beti (otherwise known as the Patrician, Sergeant Colon and, in the foreground, Corporal Nobbs).