Hi guys! Today, we have the totally awesome Megan, aka The Book Addicted Girl, with a review. Definitely check out her Month of Guests-it's really good!
Series: Discworld, Book Thirty-One
Number of Pages: 496
Genre: Fantasy, Humour, Science-Fiction, Thriller, Suspense, Action-Adventure, YA, YA-Child Crossover
Recommended Age: 12+
Contains: Swearing, Violence, Alcohol References
No Drug References
It began as a sudden strange fancy…
Polly Perks had to become a boy in a hurry. Cutting off her hair and wearing trousers was easy. Learning to fart and belch in public and walk like an ape took more time…
And now she’s enlisted in the army, and is searching for her lost brother.
But there’s a war on. There’s always a war on. And Polly and her fellow recruits are suddenly in the thick of it, without any training, and the enemy is hunting them.
All they have ontheir side is the most artful sergeant in the army and a vampire with a lust for coffee. Well… they have the Secret. And as they take the war to the heart of the enemy, they have to use all the resources of… the Monstrous Regiment.
I study A2 sociology. I know what it means when they use the phrase "gender norms". Basically it's the general belief of what it is to be a boy and what it is to be a girl. For example, girls get pink clothes (indeed, one of the references in the book is of the girls having "pink blankets") and are expected to be quiet and well behaved whereas boys wear blue and are expected to be loud and active. Often books conform to this, although now we've generally moved on. But none the less, we tend to stick to girls being girls and boys being boys. Yet I get the appeal. Way back when, girls were meant to sew, be quiet and do round-the-house jobs. That would drive me freakin' crazy. I can't shut up. I hate being domestic. I can barely make toast. And the whole idea of being able to help people more... well, let's face it: you'd have waaay more freedom as a guy than as a girl. For example, Polly needed to find her brother, and there was no way she could do that when she was trapped at home - and trapped in a dress.
Now, a girl making herself a boy to join the army to defend/protect/save their family has been done before. Generally, though, they don't tackle the, um, grosser side of becoming a boy. For example, the "ape-like" walk, the belching and farting and whatnot. Monstrous Regiment deals with all of those. And then more.
But moving onto a question:
What exactly does it mean to be a boy? What makes boys boys - and what does a girl have to do to pass off as a boy? This is what Monstrous Regiment tackled - gender norms, stereotypes and expectations. It also tackles this: when you are raised as a girl and don men's clothes, even when you’ve planned obsessively and practiced, can you ever truly pass yourself off as a boy? For Polly and the others this was a lifestyle choice, not really who they were. They were girls in men's clothing, being soldiers and trying to fool everyone around them. Sometimes they were successful. Other times... not so much. But the difficulties they faced when passing themselves off as men was a real eye-opener. Polly planned everything out and yet was still called out. There was always something that, to the right observer, labelled her a woman. And yet, ironically, Polly and the others couldn't hide their newfound 'man' behaviour when they were once more disguised as women....
But saying this, if you asked me, Polly's personality fit more with the Borogravian and 'traditional' views of a boy, rather than those of a woman. She was strong, stubborn, brave and tough, an excellent fighter and marvellously witty. She could easily hold her own with men. And the way she didn't feel guilty about her hair, the way she did feel guilty about being caught in a dress (a real 'wait a minute' moment), how she said they could "disguise" themselves as women... all these little things almost made it seem like she was born for this – for being a soldier, for fighting for what's right, for not being restricted by all of Nuggan's stupid Women Can't rules. Polly was her own person and her own person was probably an Abomination to Nuggan but who cares!
All the other characters were brilliant - they all had their own individual reasons for being there, and each had their own personality. One of my favourites had to be Maladict - he was just so brilliant! And I really liked how he, when a wee bit on the edge, just mimicked Polly's orders (she always thought of them first; he protested... and then agreed; hilarious!). Sergeant Jackrum was brilliant too, and was a good guy, really. I liked how he never treated Polly and the others differently even though they were women. Hell, he seemed to like them more because of it!
But one thing I think Pratchett captured brilliantly was the strength of women. This was a world where women weren't even allowed to write, let alone go into a war. Hell, to wear a man's clothes was a blasphemous Abomination! But these women, they were braver than some of the men. They didn't need to be there: there was no reason for them to put their lives at risk. And yet they did. Maybe I'm biased. I'm a feminist. I want equality in all areas. But I liked the way Pratchett captured all the different personalities on both gender sides: No one was alike and everyone was represented (there were lesbians – the most amazing couple, btw – and even a theatrical, cross-dressing man – albeit only for theatre). I also liked how the characters themselves acknowledged the strength of women: Jackrum compared women to lionesses; Blouse listed a number of fierce women throughout history; Vimes... well, I think he was just intrigued; the soldiers were afraid of them. Girl power...?!
Another thing Monstrous Regiment perfectly captured was the crazy effect religion has on gender norms and expectations. Maybe I'm thinking with my sociology brain, but when you compare the very oppressed women in Borogravia to, for example, Sergeant Angua in Ankh-Morpork, you can see the huge difference the religion has. Girls in Borogravia could read, but not write: that was an Abomination to Nuggan, the ridiculous and tetchy god. Also an Abomination: a woman wearing men's clothing. The other races and their gender expectations were similar: Igorinas weren't allowed to perform the Great Work, troll women weren't allowed to carry clubs or wear lichen... I liked something that Polly said: "I suppose men are the same the world over." This says it all: no matter what or who or where you are, discrimination and suppression seems to be the same.
But the sad part about Nuggan and all his rules is that in some cultures there are rules like this, when women are restricted by the most insane beliefs and rules. If you ask me, a religion-free world would eradicate most inequalities (gender, sexual, everything), most wars and conflicts. Back to the point: Pratchett takes a lot of things from the real world – which is what makes his books so ingenious and oddly hard-hitting.
But what I loved most about Monstrous Regiment was that it has so many levels. It tackles religion, society, war, being different and a whole variety of gender issues. The fact that a girl, who is just as capable as any boy thank you very much, has to wear a man's clothes to save her own brother. The fact that she needs to hide what she is to do what she has to do. How very different boys and girls are…
But now I make it sound like gender was the biggest thing in this book - like it was the focus. It wasn't. It was wonderfully subtle - a theme but not the overbearing, in-your-face kind of a theme. It tackled many other issues too - bravery, patriotism, uniqueness, religion, reasons for dressing up as a boy and joining the army... And more than this, it was just an amazing read. Fun, fast paced, full of laughs and just such an easy and enjoyable read. You could, like me, obsess over everything - every little detail. Or you could just enjoy the ride. Either way, it's recommended by me!
But here’s a warning from a feminist: Girls can do everything boys can do, so don’t ever patronise us. Just ask that poor guy what Polly did to him when he patronised her…
4½ Out of 5
4½ Out of 5
Once again, thank you very much, Megan! You can find her at The Book Addicted Girl blog, goodreads, twitter, tumblr, and facebook. She also has a new blog with Emma called The Girls of YA. You should definitely go visit.