Literacy 2008: Book 3: Jingo

Jingo by Terry Pratchett

In a series
21st in the series of Discworld books.

The lost island of Leshp suddenly rises in the middle of the ocean, sparking a war between the nations of Ankh-Morpork and Klatch over ownership of the new land. Sam Vimes and the rest of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch get pulled into the war via a murder mystery surrounding the Klatchian Prince.

It’s a Discworld book: clever, funny, cynical-but-lighthearted, and astoundingly readable and entertaining, while still having enough “meat” in its social commentary and satire that it doesn’t feel like empty, disposable entertainment.

The Discworld books are so consistently entertaining, it feels like cheating to include one in a New Year’s resolution list. Has occasional, brief passages that suffer from the Impenetrable Wall of Cleverness syndrome: where the story gets pushed to the background in favor of an extended gag or pun. Very much a middle book in the series; gives enough introduction to the characters so you can follow what’s going on, but leaves it to the other books to establish their depth.

Terry Pratchett is simply one of the best living writers, and it’s a shame that the Discworld books’ origins as fantasy parodies keeps them just shy of being recognized as “Great Literature.” Jingo would be a bad choice for your first Discworld book (I’d recommend either Mort, Small Gods, or my favorite, Night Watch), but it’s a very solid entry in the series.

Edit: I forgot to mention my favorite thing about this book. Instead of just relying on the valid but obvious statement “racism, prejudice, and jingoism are bad,” Pratchett is careful to show both sides of the brewing war, and makes a profound statement about our potential to over-compensate. We can get so locked into the idea of “Them” as innocent victims of the failings of “Us,” that we forget that “They” have just as much capacity for both evil and goodness as “We” do. No matter how well-intentioned it may be, seeing any group of people as nothing more than “the good guys” or “the victims” does as much to rob them of their humanity as overt racism does.