Continuing my occasional series where I work my way through the late Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, one book at a time.
Today’s entry is on Jingo, the 21st book.
First Appearance: the writings of General Tacticus
Introduced to Discworld: war crimes, or more accurately, war as a crime; submarines to a lesser extent
Plot: Two fishermen and their incredibly embarrassed sons are having an argument over fishing rights in the middle of the Circle Sea. One comes from Ankh-Morpork. The other is from the Middle Easternish nation of Klatch. Suddenly, an island arisies. It is the long lost island of Leshp. It is directly between both countries. And both fishermen, to the dismay of their respective sons, claim it for their respective nations.
It may be only a matter of time before a war breaks out over this action.
Some time later in Ankh-Morpork, a Klatchian prince is almost assassinated. Commander Sam Vimes won’t tolerate murder on his beat, especially as it looks like it may be just an excuse to start a war between the two nations. Jingoism is on the rise in Ankh-Morpork, and Vimes and some of his crew may be the only people in the city to think what a stupid thing that is. True, the Patrician is oddly absent, leaving power to one Lord Rust, but Vimes just doesn’t see glory on the battlefield as a valid excuse to do, well, anything. He seems to think it’s more likely to just end up with a lot of good people on both sides dead. Besides, Lord Rust is clearly a doofus.
Pulling some strings of his own, Vimes makes the Watch into a regiment of his own. As a knight, he can do this. He can also do what he has to do in order to keep the peace. Can Vimes keep the peace, find the murderer, and stop a war from breaking out?
Commentary: There’s some rather pointed commentary on war in this book. When Fred Colon discusses war with Klatch, why it will be easy, and why it should be justified, his frequent partner Nobby keeps asking various questions, pointing out that the two of them know plenty of Klatchians in the city, that most of Fred’s reasons aren’t really true, and that most of the Ankh-Morpork reasons for going to war are often little better than thinly-disguised racism or the stupid idea of how the fighting will be over quickly when it is clear that Ankh-Morpork doesn’t really have any army that knows how to fight. Both sides seem to revere the long-gone General Tacticus’ writing, but Sam Vimes may be the only one who actually knows what Tacticus is really saying, which is don’t go into any fight without having at least six-to-one odds in your own favor, something Lord Rust seems to be completely unaware of.
Meanwhile, there’s the introduction of the Klatchian character of 71 Hour Ahmed. Ahmed is painted for the longest time as perhaps the villain of the book. What makes him so interesting is that it turns out he isn’t the villain at all. Pratchett often makes villains who are at least moderately sympathetic except for the odd out-and-out psychopath like Hogfather‘s Teatime. Ahmed is depicted as smart, arrogant, and a few other things, but when Vimes figures out who he really is behind the face full of scars and gold teeth, it makes for a nice twist.
In fact, much of this novel is Vimes doing things his way to keep the upperclass twit Lord Rust from getting a lot of people slaughtered. He figures out that, as a knight, he has certain rights, and that he can resist Rust’s efforts to draft the Watch into the military (as Vimes says many times, he is not a military man). He can figure out when he’s being used (sometimes a bit too late). He can even figure out, technically, how to stop a war. It helps when Captain Carrot is nearby. Carrot, once again the implied rightful heir to the Ankh-Morpork throne, has the ability to get people to follow him. As Ahmed points out, Carrot is a natural leader, and Carrot himself chooses to follows Vimes, so that says something about both men.
While all this is going on, the Patrician has set off on a mission of his own, using Leonard of Quirm’s submarine, along with the conscripted Colon and Nobby. Why those two? They are just bright enough to do what they’re told, and not bright enough to really question anything, making them the perfect associates for a secret mission. In classic Vetinari fashion, the Patrician manages to settle things in such a way to stop a lot of bad guys plotting (even if the Patrician himself is something of a bad guy plotting) while staying on top of everybody. Compared to Lord Rust, a man who believes he is leading a small, untrained, underprovisioned army against a superior Klatchain force fighting on its own turf, using old fairy tales and half-remembered history lessons as proof of his eventual victory, anyone comes across as a good guy, and Vetinari does all this before too many people get killed.
That works with the previously established Ankh-Morpork way of doing things: invite the invading army and in and sell them things, letting them leave poor but alive. Ankh-Morpork doesn’t fight battles. Trade is its best weapon, and letting people in is a better way of winning any international competition than fighting a war. The city is often depicted as a lot of differing interests somehow balancing each other out. Outsiders are welcome to come in and make their fortune, often while filling the city’s own coffers. There hasn’t been an army or a war as far as Ankh-Morpork was concerned in decades, if not centuries. Why change that now?
This novel also features a nice subplot of Nobby Nobbs (revealing his actual first name is Cecil here) looking to find a nice girl to settle down with. While initially having standards that are far too high for a character who often needs to carry a certificate proving he’s actually human, Nobby learns a bit of a lesson when fate gets him…well, that would be saying. Nobby is no closer to finding a girl by the time the novel ends, but he sure does understand the female condition a bit better. I know the Watch tends to pop up more and more as the series progresses, so I’ll have to keep an eye on Nobby to see if his single status changes any over time.
NEXT BOOK: Rincewind’s unasked for travelogue comes to an end, and with it, his solo novels. Be back as Rincewind and the Luggage get to explore The Last Continent which looks like a goofy version of Australia.