I think Jingo was the first ever Discworld book I read. I have a vague memory of finding it in my Christmas stocking one year and being a little bit wary of it, not reading it until well into January. I needn’t have worried – it was exactly up my street.
My flatmate, it turns out, also likes Pratchett, and while home for Christmas raided her collection for a few to bring back to London with her. This was one of them, and I spent a pleasant couple of hours one Sunday afternoon re-reading it. (Also, I appear to have rediscovered my ability to speed-read. This will come in useful.)
This is another Vimes novel, following the commander as he attempts to avert a war between Ankh-Morpork and the neighbouring desert nation of Klatch. As the nations dispute ownership of a newly appeared island, an assassination attempt is made on a Klatchian diplomat. Nationalistic pride takes over and Ankh-Morpork heads for battle, while Vimes and the rest of the Watch try to figure out why this has happened, who stands to benefit from the war, and how to stop it.
I now get a lot more of the book than I did at the age of eleven or so. Of course there were a few one-liners that went over my head at that age (for example, the regiment known as the Pheasant Pluckers), but mainly I now know a lot more about the British history that the book parodies. It’s a testament to Pratchett’s writing that I found the book amusing as a kid even without this knowledge, but an even stronger testament that he’s able to parody – and mock – British colonialism, nationalistic pride and jingoism within the structure of a comic novel. He manages to capture the blinkered views of the powerful, the patriotic nonsense that springs up in a country about to go to war, and the tensions between locals and migrants when their countries declare hostilities.
It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone’s fault. If it was us, what did that make Me? After all, I’m one of Us. I must be. I’ve certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We’re always one of Us. It’s Them that do the bad things.
Even now, I think this is one of Pratchett’s stronger books – not just a parody of fairy tales or classic plays, this is much deeper, and much funnier as a result. A few parts are weak – the conspiracy plot is overly convoluted, the cross-dressing scene is a little odd, and the odd little Dis-organiser/quantum-world-theory subplot doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the book (Vimes has a appointment gadget that tells him where he’s supposed to be. At one point, he makes a decision, and accidentally picks up the gadget from another universe where he makes the opposite decision – this tells him what would have happened, culminating in his death). But it’s a Vimes novel with lots of Lord Vetinari and a supporting role for Leonard of Quirm. Definitely one of his best.