There’s something I feel I need to get out of the way — especially since I shall probably be reviewing at least a couple more Discworld books in the next few weeks — so if you just want to get to the review then by all means skip down to the picture of the book cover and the sentence beginning ‘So to the book itself‘
I remember when my good friend Dawn lent me the first Discworld book The Colour of Magic. It was 1987 and I was temporarily between university courses and unemployed. I read it in a day because it was that rare and delightful thing, literally un-put-downable. I’d never read anything quite like it before. I was only 19 but still I was an avid, if quite narrow, reader.
Over the next decade or so I read every new Discworld book as soon as it came out in paperback and whilst they weren’t always great they were always pretty reliably good. A pleasant familiarity with the author’s voice and themes, and of course great characters.
But gradually I found that I was reading them less quickly. What had been devouring them in great chunks, if not at a single sitting, had become a little each day. But then my circumstances had changed. I was no longer a student and the 15minute bus ride to work and the 10-20mins before I fell asleep at night seemed more appropriate than staying up until the early hours. A small part of me even liked eking out the pleasure over a longer period. After all, even at Mr Pratchett’s prolific rate you’d still have months to wait for the next one.
At a certain point I stopped reading them. Although it never really felt that way, it just felt like I’d had the latest book waiting to be read lying around a long time, long enough for the next one to come out. Around about the same time I was “branching out” and trying to read other authors and other genres. A year or two after that I’d moved down here and I was tending to fall asleep after watching TV and reading generally had gotten squeezed out.
After that I always felt that one day I’d get back into reading again and go through my Discworld backlog and catch up. I was vaguely aware that some books were getting good reaction and that there were new “great” Discworld books but I also knew that I, in my anal way, would have to plough through all the less-great ones rather than read out of order. M., herself a Discworld fan, added to this because she was still reading every new book when it came out and had her own favourites. I understand though that she herself has now gotten a few books behind and is a little less enthused.
So what? Why does any of this matter? Well of course it doesn’t, except to put in context the vague feelings of guilt I have about not utterly loving each new Discworld book. Yesterday I read most of Jingo, having started it (again) on Friday. But it was less about the sheer joy of this new thing, this wonderful humour, or even familiar pleasures, than it was about another 400pages and something to do on a Bank Holiday where it was too hot to feel energetic.
It was fun – more of that below – but there was also a sense of knowing the well-worn rhythms of Pratchett’s writing style. I could see where the jokes were coming from and they made me smile mostly, occasionally I found myself thinking “yeah, yeah, get on with the story”.
Forgive me Terry, I have not kept faith and have grown weary. However I do plan to read at least two more Discworld books so perhaps I can learn to love them again. Or at least see them with fresher eyes.
So to the book itself…
Jingo is the story of a war between Ankh-Morpork and Klatch. It starts with the re-surfacing from the sea of an island called Leshp, which quickly becomes the source of (flimsy excuse for) a territorial dispute.
From a Discworld point of view what you need to know is that this is primarily a Watch book. So the key characters are Vimes, Carrot, Angua, Nobby and Colon, together with some new Klatchian ones. And although I said it was about a war, it’s really about the political intrigue leading up to war, and, since this is a Watch book, ‘political intrigue’ is really a fancy term for crimes by posh and/or foreign folk. So we’re firmly in Vimes’ country here.
Apart from Pyramids, an early favourite, I tend to prefer Discworld books that stick to one setting and Jingo takes place partly in Ankh-Morpork, partly on board ships and partly in Klatch. I think I preferred the Ankh-Morpork sections, perhaps because that feels more properly like Vimes’ natural setting.
I was all set to give this book a lower score, I was telling myself that I hadn’t enjoyed it as much as I should (see above) but then within the last fifty pages something happened. First what I had thought might be Pratchett’s common inability to get to an ending turned out instead to be a proper ending – even though we had hit the climax of the story some ways before, the final sections played out in what seemed a natural and pleasing way. It didn’t feel overlong.
Second it ended – no spoiler this – on a scene with Commander Sam Vimes of the Watch reminding me that I actually like this character, and that itself reminded me that what Terry’s great at is creating characters that you want to spend more and more time with.
Oh and of course – war is bad.
7/10 – Vimes of the City Watch brings a whole new perspective on the phrase “prosecuting a war”.