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This is the second most-frequently read of my favorite Terry Pratchett books, the first being Night Watch, which helped get me through the death of my mother. My latest copy of Monstrous Regiment is so battered and dog-eared that it’s falling apart. From sentence number one I was riveted and if you are wondering whether you should read this book, the short answer is yes, turn your cursor right now to a new tab and order it, or even better jog out to your local (probably half an hour away) bookstore (they’re an endangered species) and support them by buying it there.It’s that good. Sir Terry is that good a writer. Read the book before finishing this review; you’ll thank me for the advice, and if you haven’t already devoured the Discworld series you are in for the rollercoaster ride and treat of your life.By the way, Sir Terry is a personal hero of mine. When he died last March I cried for days. He went leaving the bravest self-written epitaph I have ever read: Terry took Deaths arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.The End.I was so stricken and devastated when I read this that I wrote a short response to it, which I kept to myself because I realized that I had no right to besmirch Sir Terry’s courage by imposing my own end-of-life beliefs on his in public. I get choked up just trying to write about this wonderful man and I ardently look forward to the day when we can cure Alzheimer’s disease and save the minds of other brilliant people like him.And guess what? Monstrous Regiment is a “gender-bending” book, meaning that it’s about a girl who dresses up as a boy to get into the army of an extremely misogynistic and backward country so she can try to rescue her older brother Paul, whom she has taken care of since she was a child. That’s not a spoiler, by the way: that’s on the back cover. The entire story is about female and male roles, and whether or not they should change. Ahem. More about that later. But the point is, this is an extremely appropriate book for the first of my new reviews. It’s also a book that will probably make you think a few new thoughts, especially if female equality isn’t an obsession of yours, and therefore obviously worth reading.Monstrous Regiment will also make you think about war. There is enough about realistic fighting in it to make you freeze in shock at points. Like Night Watch, like all of Sir Terry’s best writing, it deals with a serious subject in a loopy way, and the loopiness in turn has a deadly serious razor edge to it. Yes, yes, war is bad and grass is green (except in drought-stricken California, where it’s dun) but Monstrous Regiment will make you feel up close and personal what it’s like to be a soldier. And heaven only knows they know what war is really like. If you don’t feel some wheels turning in your head as you re-evaluate your position on whether anybody should fight anybody with anything after reading this book you are either smarter than everyone else left here in the world (and maybe a bodhisattva) or dumber than a pigeon.The third subject Monstrous Regiment takes on is religion. Yes, organized religion and heavenly religion, too. And, once again, the book will probably surprise you. It astounded and amazed me by its bravery in handling this particular hot potato. I won’t go into the subject at length here because there are some spoilers that are pretty important to the discussion, but suffice it to say that new thoughts may well rocket back and forth in your head at the speed of a light clacks’ signals, which is to say at c for celeritas. Sir Terry is a genius when it comes to turning established “truths” on their heads and then turning them back over again . . . and back upside-down just for good measure. So definitely, without doubt, read the book. There are some terrific characters introduced here. The protagonist, Polly Oliver Ozzer Perks, is a very likeable girl, and the question of whether she is a lovable girl—a hero to adore and/or emulate—doesn’t really even arise. I’d be entirely happy to have Polly on my team any day, and I’d not hesitate to call on her in time of need. She’s smart and solid. That’s high praise from me. Overall: The action in the book is fast and furious, the humor is hilarious, the writing is fresh and vibrant, the ideas breathtaking, and there are even a few brief appearances by Samuel Vimes, who is my favorite of all Sir Terry’s characters, male or female. That is my conventional review of Monstrous Regiment, and I give it a conventional five out of five stars.See the comments below for the rest of my review.

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