Fantasy Review: ‘Jingo’ by Terry Pratchett

Jingo (Discworld, #21)Part 21 of The Complete Discworld Reread

I am a Granny Weatherwax guy.  With no hesitation.  You ask me which Pratchett story arc is the best and I will yell to the world how awesome the witches of Lancre are.  But I got a dirty secret; it wasn’t always this way to me.  Granny is the other woman, the one I left my first love for.  Before I fell in love with Granny, I was a city watch man through and through.  Reading Jingo again has reminded me exactly why.

It is not the best book of the Discworld series, not by a long shot.  Even against the other city watch books it probably sits in, well, bottom half for sure.  Behind Guards! Guards!, Feet of Clay, and Night Watch definitely.   Been too long since I read The Fifth Elephant, but I remember it being pretty good too.  So, let’s give it the fifth spot and go from there.  So the fourth or fifth best book in my second favorite subplot of a large series and I still flew through and gobbled up every damn word.

A small, tactically worthless island appears out of nowhere between Ankh-Morpork and Klatch.  Of course both sides claim it and suddenly peaceful relations turn sour.  A diplomatic mission from Klatch goes sour and soon enough war appears to be the only result.  But it should be over quickly right, just as soon as those foreign dogs get a taste of cold steel they will run to the hills, right?

Not the most subtle of book, but Pratchett is known to hide a single piccolo in a brass band.  If you are looking for the in jokes they are always there, but there are plenty of big jokes to play around with even if you don’t see them.  This time we are dealing with national politics, war, racism and immigration, and of course, national jingoism.

There is an early scene in this book that sums up everything I love about Pratchett, and it is only a few pages long.  But our good friends Colon and Nobby are watching the cities jingoistic sailors prepare for way, specifically a sign painter who has missed a letter ‘e’ in the Pride of Ankh-Morpork.  And while they wait for their minor schadenfreude Colon ‘educates’ Nobby on the politics of the situation; strait from the reliable sources of ‘what some bloke told me in a pub.’  Nobby sits and pokes holes in every amount of Colon’s non PC argument by agreeing with in in a very telling way.  It is a conversation that could be held in any bar across the country and it is damn near perfect.  All tied together at the end by the two sharing a minor victory as the man painting his ship finds the mistake they have been watching for.

At this point the City Watch as grown so large that only a few members get any actual development in the book, most just stick to their old roles or give a bit of comic relief.  Carrot is established at this point; certainly not a king but a man people can’t help but follow (all the way to a foreign country if need be).  Sadly Angua may as well be invisible; this is a rare Pratchett outing that forgets to give the female characters anything to do at all.  Nobbs learns a bit more about love, and Vimes learns once again that he is bought and sold.  I had never before noticed that Vimes shows apparent growth in each book of his story arc, yet in each is in the exact same place by the end; he just gets a new title or concession thrown his way after the Patrician is done pulling all the right strings (well, wasn’t the Patrician this time, but strings were still pulled).

Not sure why I don’t rate this one as high as some of the earlier ones.  Perhaps it is because all the watch is present but few have much to do.  The relative lack of Angua especially is missed.  It is very over the top in making its point this time around; the Ankh-Morporkians are so stupidly sure of themselves against their ‘uncivilized’ neighbors it should be laughable (if history didn’t show people with that misplaced confidence time and again).  And of course the whole Vimes is in a rut thing is starting to show.

But I liked it better than I remembered.  Humor?  Still top notch.  If you don’t find a zombie catching rats and calling it a foreign disease hilarious you have no soul (especially when you learn of the cure).  And who can forget rival street gangs putting their thumbs in their ears and chanting together a silly little nonsense.  Good stuff.  And I have always wondered where you find lowerglyphics, what it means when seaweed is wet, and why someone would carry around a life sized inflatable donkey.  I enjoyed Vimes’ new rival, 71 Hour Ahmed, who has a very unique way of keeping people off guard.  I was also fairly impressed about the eventual conclusion to the early stories crime (the war itself came later).  Everyone suspects everyone, even themselves, and both sides wanted to claim the criminal as their own is a different type of thing.

Not the best, but a solid entry.

4 Stars

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