Jingo by Terry Pratchett is the 21st novel in the author’s comic fantasy Discworld series, and the fourth in the City Watch sub-series. After being submerged in the Circle Sea for hundreds of years, the island of Leshp suddenly resurfaces. Being exactly halfway between the city of Ankh-Morpork and Al Khali (the capital of Klatch), both cities lay claim to it for its strategic value, escalating tensions between the two. With Ankh-Morpork having a sizable population of Klatchian people, these mounting tensions begin to cause unrest within the city’s population, much to the chagrin of Commander Samuel Vimes of the City Watch and his loyal watchmen, who want nothing more than to keep the peace. After a visiting Klatchian prince is almost assassinated, it is up to the Watch to track down those secretly responsible, whom seem hellbent on ensuring that the war is inevitable.
Jingo is a novel I knew very little about going in, which was refreshing on its own considering just how much I wound up knowing about Hogfather before reading it a few months ago. I typically enjoy the City Watch sub-series just fine, but I must say that this reading felt more obligatory to me than usual, the gap between this novel and the last City Watch book being smaller than any other previously. Variety is something I enjoy in this series, especially over 20 books in, and I’m not sure how ready I was to revisit these characters so soon.
Nevertheless, I found this book to be more enjoyably straightforward than its predecessor Feet of Clay, which was well-written in many respects but had a murder mystery that I found to be a little convoluted. Though possessing a developing mystery of its own, the politics that catalyze the conflict in this book were easy to get into right from the outset, especially the way it unearths old grudges and a sudden distrust in the Klatchian population of Ankh-Morpork. For the most part this is couched in comedy, which avoids making the sudden, more outward intolerance of these citizens too dire, but doesn’t shy away from taking the matter more seriously either.
Some of the biggest strengths of the story itself lie in its lampooning of jingoist ideas, cultural ignorance, and glorification of war. The sections I found most equally amusing and effective were between Sergeant Colon and Corporal Nobbs, the former being outwardly racist, albeit in a more oafish, ignorant way rather than completely venomous. Though not particularly subtle, their dialogue together humorously laid bare the often hypocritical ways those with prejudice try to justify their reasoning. Better yet, by the end of the story the two grow in such a way that they actually turn away from an establishment’s gauche signage, which they’d previously tried to justify. These motifs are spread throughout the text, highlighting how a lot of these ideas are just hot air, meant to rile up the masses into throwing their lives away over a petty squabble.
Adding to this, I really liked the distinction the story draws between watchmen and soldiers, Commander Vimes being very principled about policing; watchmen are meant to keep the peace and protect people, while soldiers are simply directed at an enemy and told to kill. This was most effectively illustrated by the unusual glitch that happens with Vimes’s personal organizer (powered by a demon), which accidentally receives the appointments of an alternate version of Vimes who doesn’t give chase to a suspect who has made off with Corporal Angua.
Eventually, he receives updates about the numerous watchmen we know and love dying, as in this apparent alternate history Ankh-Morpork is invaded. Only by taking his makeshift regiment of watchmen to do ostensible police work, instead of staying in the city to butt heads with other nobles, are their lives preserved and able to accomplish something more meaningful. The bluntness of the scene was especially effective because these stories are typically farcical in nature, making for a sober reminder that things only needed to go a little differently for everyone to end up dead. Discworld is often at its best when it is equally humorous and earnest.
I think my main sticking point with this novel is that is has a really strong plot that was enjoyable to read, aided by its cast of well-established characters, but these characters themselves didn’t really have any room for growth. They occupy their respective niches, developed in previous books, and don’t really grow out of them. Vimes struggles with work/life balance and his higher status in society, Carrot is the world’s most charismatic man and all-around nice guy, Angua is vexed by her relationship with Carrot because he is so inherently good that she doesn’t feel special compared to how he treats other people, and so on. The ways these motifs are reiterated still made for good reading, but the characters ultimately felt static.
I think this felt most apparent when I realized that Corporal Nobbs, typically comic relief and the butt of many jokes in the series, actually went through more growth than the rest of the main cast. Throughout the book he is troubled by how unlucky he is with women, and while on a secret mission in Klatch with the Patrician and Sergeant Colon he must disguise himself as a woman to blend in. This leads to some amusing antics, but it was most notable for how Nobby got in touch with his feminine side and actually came away from it understanding women a little better. I liked all of this, but it’s strange that the most apparent character growth in the book emerged from a gag.
With all said and done, there’s no denying that Jingo is a great Discworld novel. The plot was really well constructed, the humour was on point, and the characters were as fully realized and lovable as ever. I do wish a little more room had been made for significant character development, however, as I am starting to feel more strung along with some of these characters’ foibles than I am fully compelled by them. It’s a worthy addition to the City Watch sub-series, though I do hope subsequent books will have a little more to offer for me.
My Rating: 4 out of 5