In the twenty-third and final part of Monstrous Regiment, Polly says goodbye before starting a new life. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For extended discussion of cissexism, misgendering, war, and imperialism
This has been a difficult review to write. I do like the challenge, but I know that as I sit more with the ending to Monstrous Regiment, the more questions I have than answers. While most of this is unchanged from when I first wrote it, I am going to add in a link to the post I made about what transpired over a number of days for some context for what I’ll say at the end. I expect that this is going to be a heavily-discussed section, and because of that, I will be doing my best to be reading comments (as promised) and responding as needed (or sitting out as needed, too, since a big thing I need to do more of is NOT say something). I will urge others to listen as well, and please use the reporting feature to elevate issues or concerns to the moderators, who can also elevate them to me if I have to step away from the comments.
Anyway: this is a very emotional conclusion and perhaps one of the saddest ends since Moving Pictures. Well, there is some light at the end of the tunnel! So this is definitely not as sad. But Jackrum’s story is just… lord, it’s so sad??? They changed their whole life for someone and then lost them and what the HELL.
Their story breaks my heart. It’s clear that there was no character in the Discworld series that I was LESS prepared for, and I fell for the constant misdirects and red herrings. I never once considered that they were speaking from experience rather than being an ally who had helped plenty of women escape their circumstances, or to find people they lost, or to find purpose or whatever their motivation was. In fact, this reveal re-writes… what? Everything? Practically every reaction and my interpretation of said action?
… well, here’s where things get sticky.
Do I refer to Jackrum as a man or a woman? As gender neutral? What was Pratchett’s intention here? Even with the section I re-read to contain Pratchett’s intended pronoun usage, I’m still confused. Was Jackrum a woman only when Polly observed that they were a woman, and then, as soon as Polly left the room, Jackrum was a man? Is this a matter of convenience or preference or identity? There’s a part of me that wonders if the purpose of all of this was what Pratchett meant in the previous section, when Polly thought about how people had to start somewhere while she spoke with de Worde. Is this the start? Will women now be able to openly serve without having to disguise themselves? Basically, do all the women-dressed-as-men disappear, or is this indicative of people actually existing as trans characters within the Discworld universe? I think we can probably agree that all of the ins-and-outs were only dressed in disguises for practical reasons, but what about all the higher-ups and what about Jackrum specifically?
The text itself switches to she/her the second they are “identified” as women. I didn’t say much of anything at all at the time because I didn’t want to put my foot in my mouth if this was part of some other story. (Edited to add: Lord, did I put my foot in my mouth in other ways.) But even with Jackrum’s full backstory finally revealed, the potential for the first major trans character is there, and they would join Tonker and Lofty as canonical queer characters, too. But what should I be taking away from this exchange?
“What’re you saying, Perks?
“You’re a liar, Sarge,” said Polly, leaning forward. “Best I’ve ever heard.”
That suggests that Jackrum has been lying about their identity, not that they are a man. It’s part of their grand scheme to get around all the oppressive rules in the military, right? Do they prefer presenting as a man? That would be interesting! What if this was about gender fluidity? Take the section where the US version is edited different:
Polly paused when she got to the door. Jackrum had turned her chair to the fire, and had settled back. Around him, the kitchen worked.
Does this mean that Polly accepted Jackrum as a man, since the narration is technically through her POV? What’s the implication of this for all the women who are in disguise in high command? Are they all women, too, who are just “lying” to themselves and everyone else for their own personal gain? Or is this supposed to be some glorious act of rebellion? And if that’s the case, is Polly’s decision six months later the straw that breaks the camel’s back? I could see that, too, but in the interest of not making dismissive or definitive proclamations, I think this is a case where I should ask and then… well, listen. Is there a general consensus here, and did Pratchett ever weigh in on what he intended with Jackrum?
I still can’t deny feeling something real intense about some of the other resolutions in this final section. I love that Shufti stays with Polly; I love that Tonker and Lofty are still traveling together and that they burned down the Girls’ Working School. DIRECT ACTION. The iconograph of Jackrum reunited with their son and grandkids is ENTIRELY TOO MUCH and one of the best fucking things in this whole book. Regardless of my confusion about Jackrum’s identity, I can still recognize how immense it is that they reunited with their family, that Polly finally had a huge influence on the person who influenced her.
Along with this, so much of this book has demonstrated to the reader that war-obsessed countries are fucked up. War tore apart families; war ruined lives; war supported a terrible nationalism, war kept a repressive religion alive, and war helped create people like Strappi, Blouse, and Jackrum, which is not all bad, but it’s not all good, either. I wouldn’t say Blouse and Jackrum were bad people, you know? (Seriously, I thought Jackrum was just one of those super nationalistic military dudes, like half my dad’s friends, and I had no idea how much I was wrong about all of that. UGH I NEED TO RE-READ THIS.)
I do, however, feel very strange about what Pratchett might be saying about war and the military. I get that Borogravia can’t change overnight, and truthfully, I found it realistic (and a bit scathing) that the sense of terror and elation the Borogravians felt towards a future without war just gave way to… well, more war. We don’t know why the army is recruiting or who Borogravia is fighting against, but Polly decides that she can’t resist the pull of being a soldier. So, she puts on her new uniform, ends up meeting up with Maladicta, and re-enrolls. The reunion was emotional, but as it became clear that they were just entering the cycle again, I was confused. I thought the whole point of this book was that war was awful. It’s not really going to be better this time around because women are participating in it. The world just needs to stop going to war. Polly remarks:
How many ways can you fight a war? Polly wondered. We have the clacks now. I know a man who writes things down. The world turns. Plucky little countries seeking self-determination… could be useful to big countries with plans of their own.
So, she’ll just fight a war, but… smarter? There are still forms of violence that aren’t necessarily physical, and if Borogravia is fighting with other nations to take them over or imperialize them, it doesn’t matter if she does it smarter. But Pratchett is vague on this, only giving us a glimpse of the all-women squad that she and Maladicta are assembling. What will they do? Who knows! Maybe she will work from the inside to dismantle the whole war machine by stopping all the men from being obsessed with nationalism and violence. So what exactly is this different way? My hope is that it doesn’t involve blowing people up, that it isn’t about ruthlessly killing the “other” like Jackrum. Is it meant to be the cleverness and cunning that she learned from Jackrum, that got her as far as she got? If anything, that would be the way she could break this cycle. Jackrum couldn’t escape it; they were a soldier so young that they bought the lie that had been sold to them, at least up until they didn’t. Perhaps that is Jackrum’s gift in the end: they handed Polly the key to unlock all of this, knowing that she might very well be the one to definitively change Borogravia forever.
I did enjoy this book, and I imagine It reads much differently once you know the truth. Actually, that’s an understatement. There’s no way it’s the same book the second time around. I’ve mentioned this a few times now, but I’ve never felt this strong of a desire to re-read a book. Sure, some of that is because I very publicly got a lot of things wrong, but it’s also because it does not have the same narrative structure of practically any of the other Discworld books. It is unique in that regard. The story of Jackrum is going to stick with me a long time, which is why I referenced Moving Pictures at the beginning. It’s a haunting thing, really, and the more I think about Jackrum, the more fascinated I am by their choices.
So, from here, we will be moving on to A Hat Full of Sky! This was chosen even though, technically, the next Science of Discworld book was supposed to follow this, because I will be reading a section live at the International Discworld Convention! I figured that might be more fun to do live/in real-time, so after A Hat Full of Sky, we will tackle The Science of Discworld II.
Other than that, I am adding this section at the end to note that if you do want to talk about the comments, my behavior/interpretation of things, and the general announcement regarding Monstrous Regiment, I only ask that you do it on this post. I say that because it will be much easier for me to see it and follow conversations than having them spread about multiple reviews/days. Thank you!
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