Friday, 15 January 2010

book review - "Jingo"

Now, 'Jingo' is the 21st novel of Terry Pratchett's phenomenally popular and successful Discworld series. It is also the 4th City Watch story - my favourite of the 4 or 5 recurring central characters/organisations. As part of my "book per fortnight throughout 2010" idea, it's not technically welcome as I started reading it in 2009, but I don't really care.

My own basic plot summary is this: A land mass suddenly appears between Ankh-Morpork and Al Kali (the capital of Klatch). (These names will mean nothing if you haven't read Discworld before by the way, so please just disregard them if this is the case.) The aforementioned land mass, named Leshp, causes intense debate over its ownership between two fisherman: one from Ankh-Morpork and one from Al Kali, a debate that quickly becomes 'political' (again: if you haven't read Discworld, disregard the inverted commas). This exasperation of circumstances is not helped by an attempted assassination on Al Kali's prince, who is visiting Ankh-Morpork, nor by a string of attacks on Klatchian residents of Ankh-Morpork.

Vetinari, Ankh-Morpork's patrician, resigns and is replaced by Lord Rust. Lord Rust demands that Commander Vimes stands down as commander of the watch, which he does. At this point an anomaly in time creates two separate time lines: in a brief summary, one results in the diffusion of the conflict between the two countries, and one results in a war and the death of all officers in the watch. The former is given prominence in the novel.

Vetinari takes Leonard of Quirm (a parody of Leonardo Da Vinci), Corporal Nobbs, and Sergeant Colon to Klatch in a "Going-Under-The-Water-Safely-Device" (despite being a prolific inventor, Leonard possesses almost no talent in naming his inventions). At the same time, Vimes and most of the ex-watch take a boat to Klatch, in pursuit of Sergeant Angua (who was captured by 71-hour Ahmed whilst in werewolf form (71-hour Ahmed is Vimes' main suspect for the assassination attempt, although he is a ultimately a red-herring)). Ankh-Morpork's hapless military plan a wildly insufficient attack on Al Kali's main military outpost, while Al Kalian forces are planning brutally efficient attacks on Ankh-Morpork. Luckily though, Vimes and Vetinari's combined (yet completely independent) efforts results in a diffusion of conflict through the arrest of Al Kali's prince by Vimes, and a complete and unconditional surrender by Vetinari, accompanied by a large payment of compensation.

For this surrender, Vetinari is ostracised by Lord Rust, who believes war was the necessary option. The compensation payment also looks like it will have to be honoured, until Vetinari explains that it was to be completed on Leshp, which has since mysteriously disappeared (possibly aided by Leonard of Quirm's inventions?), and so is void.

Obviously the 4 paragraph summary above is intensely brief, but it gives enough idea of the story for my evaluation of the book, which for some reason I expected less of than others in the series. (It sounds ridiculous, but I think it was subconsciously because of the cover illustration...) Despite my expectations I enjoyed the book. A lot. As I do with almost all of Terry Pratchett's.

He is an awesome writer, in terms of plot development, character development (both often between novels as well as within them) and style. His use of humour is intelligent and often subtle, and has me laughing out loud regularly. The example I will give from this book however, is neither intelligent nor subtle: In a tactical discussion between Lord Rust and his men, Corporal Nobbs (a character who has been strongly developed throughout the whole Discworld series) is referred to as "an absolute tit". For some reason, the context and bluntness of this quote (and the italics (?)) had me laughing audibly for about 10 minutes, and internally for a long time afterwards. (There are countless other examples of both types of humour, but it would ruin the book (and probably this review) if I included them all.)

This is the first Discworld novel where I really saw strong representations of real world events and concepts (although each contains them in some respect). In Jingo, the themes are racism and xenophobia, as well as Jingoism (which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as "extreme patriotism in the form of aggressive foreign policy"). That Terry Pratchett is able to raise these issues, explore them in detail, and ultimately demonstrate how pointless such discrimination is, while still constructing an intelligent, witty and entertaining story amazes me.

So that's it. For anyone who hasn't read the book, I'd recommend it. And for anyone who is a virgin to the Discworld series, I would STRONGLY advise you to change this fact.

I leave you with this; 5 of Terry Pratchett's short stories that I only found existed when researching material for this review:

Enjoy! And thanks for reading!

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