Good grief, have I really not reviewed this book? Well, here it comes, with the first time reader and already read breakdown. First time will try and dance around spoilers, already read will, er, assume you’ve already read it.
In previous installments of the City Watch series, Pratchett concentrated on the ever-expanding Watch in the ever-evolving city of Ankh-Morpork. Jingo is the first book in the series to deviate from that, with the second half of the book set mostly in Klatch as Sam Vimes tackles arguably the greatest crime of all.
The reappearance of Leshp – a fertile island with a natural harbour, situated in an ideal strategic spot halfway between Ankh-Morpork and Klatch – is the main source of the tensions. But when Prince Khufarah, Klatch’s representative on the matter is the subject of an assassination attempt, the tension snaps. Sam Vimes is sure there’s a crime but he can’t prove it. Lord Vetinari has stepped down and vanished, leaving “inbred streak of piss” Lord Rust to take over.
And there’s a war.
Jingo is part bumbling comedy, part detective mystery, and part straight for the throat critique of the thinking where crimes become too big to be prosecuted, too big to be crimes; where they become politics. They’re still crimes, snap Sir Sam Vimes and Sir Terry Pratchett alike, even if there’s no court that will try them. The fantasy has been dialed back as Pratchett goes for full satire, PG Wodehouse gone berserk.
It is not the most even narrative. Parts of the Vetinari strand with Colon and Nobbs lag a little, relying mainly on comedy to carry the story as it sets up the end. The ship journey for Vimes and co to Klatch is in a similar position. The crime/mystery part is more set-up for the plot than the plot. In fact, I could have just said that to begin with. There’s a lot of set-up without huge amounts of happening.
The moments that are set up make it all worthwhile. I mean, haven’t you always wanted to see someone arrest two armies? Their greatness is a credit to both the plotting and the characterisation. Vimes’ shouting matches with Rust wouldn’t be so satisfying without seeing exactly what sort of pompous idiot Rust is; his showdowns with 71-Hour Ahmed wouldn’t be so good without Ahmed being so damn fun. Jingo is a book that largely swings on how much you enjoy reading about the characters Pratchett invented here, and I think they’re fantastic.
As such, I think this book is fantastic. I mean, you’re shocked if you’ve been here before, right? This blog is basically a Discworld shrine. I don’t think this is the strongest entry in the City Watch series, but it’s big moments and characters still make it stand.
This portion of the review will not be as good as I want, because I can’t be bothered to go word search all the uses of wind or joke in the text. But as light was to Guards!Guards!, so these words capture something of the defining themes here.
The wind one is the most important and is introduced early when the first sighting of Leshp arising is a fisherman hitting their oar off of a weathercock. Jingo might be about a war narrative wise, but the theme is more about how one comes to be. For that Pratchett looks not only at the idea of change, but also of impermanence. Wars may be won, and Empires founded, and Peace gained, but all it takes is for the wind to change and the next thing you know, there’s only ruins and the desert, as happened to the D’regs’ homeland in this book. So then people will fight the war again, bringing home man’s impermanence in the starkest way possible; in Jingo, the war is averted, but not before people with hopes and dreams die. Pratchett goes out of his way to make sure we know they had hopes and dreams.
For me, there’s four times where the wind thing is really important. The first is when Vimes is listening to the speakers in Sator Square, understanding that the ordinary people he’s known all his life are now baying for war, so strongly that even Detritus can spot the way the wind is blowing. That’s because of the weathervanes, and Vimes relaxes for a moment, but then Detritus puts it in troll metaphor and it’s clear. Even the fickest of the fick can see that the wind has changed direction and a blow is coming. How can you fight the weather?
The second time is the storm of Jenkins’ boat, as Vimes takes off to another continent in hot pursuit of a suspect. The storm rages and Vimes throws everything over the side just to stay afloat. It’s played for laughs but typed out, it’s barely even a metaphor. When the weather of life presses you hard, most of us jettison things to keep going. We have to. Hobbies in difficult periods or time crunches, certain liberties in the face of pandemics, parts of our identity and morality in times of great conflict. Vimes has tried to resist the wind he felt blowing in Sator Square but ultimately, he has gone along with it. He’s jumped into the storm to try and do the right thing.
It would be easy for him to get sidetracked from here. Seek safety rather than relentlessly pursue his main suspect/witness Ahmed. Stay by the ship and go home with Jenkins once wrecked on the shore, alone and outnumbered. Become a guerilla as Carrot suggests. But Vimes sticks to being Vimes. He sticks to trying to unravel the crime and arrest the criminal. And I think the moment he decides on that is wind moment number three, up in ruined Tacticum, talking to Ahmed and understanding how the winds of history shift. I don’t have have a theory on why this is the moment that convinces him; maybe Pratchett has the wind there to show Vimes’ mind changing, and it’s mainly just hearing the evidence from another copper.
It’s partly also a case of him getting to hear about making the other choice go. The one great fantasy conceit of this book is that Vimes owns an Imp Organizer, useless but capable of seeing the future. When he goes after Ahmed, as there’s two Vimes going through different legs of the Trousers of Time, they grab the wrong one. Vimes knows he’d have failed and died if he’d stayed in Ankh-Morpork. He is very aware of how impermanent he is (no accident the imp started spouted off about the death during his meeting with Ahmed). Again, I don’t know why the impermanence pressed him into trying to arrest Cadram. But it did.
The fourth interesting case of wind comes in the adventures of Colon and Nobbs, teamed up with Vetinari, all in Leonardo da Quirm’s prototype submarine. It’s a similar mission to Vimes, but undertaken in a very different way, and I think this is signposted by the cheerful observation that Leonardo didn’t really think through bringing a lot of flatulence inducing foods to an enclosed space. At this point in the series, Vimes and Vetinari have emerged as a yin-yang of deeply cynical humanism. Vimes is the force of How Things Should Be: the thief-taker, the chaser, the Yang. Vetinari is the force of How Things Are: the politician, the guru of masterly inactivity, the Yin.
Vimes is the storm. Vetinari is the stale air.
Vetinari is shown as the ultimate winner in this book, although the initial look and the deeper glance show different things to me. Yes, Vetinari’s methods and philosophies are still triumphant, but he’s not the only one who is, and he could not do it himself. It is Vimes’ hot pursuit that brings matters to a stalemate that allow Vetinari to swoop in. Perhaps he’d have managed it without Vimes, and perhaps not. They are both winners, just Vimes cannot celebrate so much because of his nature. He’s stopped the crime and ensured justice of some sort will be felt, but it will not be justice in the light. People don’t entirely understand the nature of Vetinari’s victory either, and he’s entirely fine with that. The real winners though are the ordinary people of Ankh-Morpork who go unslaughtered, and those of Klatch, who won’t undergo bloody ‘pacification’ at the hands of the ambitious and able Prince Cadram. Everybody’s a winner here, not just Vetinari.
And let’s take a moment to talk of Klatch. I think Pratchett had some hard choices to make in terms of showing racism and prejudice, and the threat of an enemy without, and having a tight narrative, and I think he picked well in sidestepping a lot of them. We’re never really shown the Klatchian perspective – nearly everything is through Ankh-Morpork eyes – but Pratchett is careful to show that the snapshot we get shows both stereotype and a reality of sorts. The stereotype is a mix-up of Arabic and Indian stereotypes, mostly coming through the eyes of the prejudiced (Sergeant Colon is such a useful character). The reality – a group of different cultures and ethnicities, people with all sorts of different beliefs and desires – is shown in little glimpses. Ahmed preferring the little countries and their little wars over Cadram’s big crime. The fight between Gorim and his would-be liberator. The men reacting in disbelief to Colon’s idea of Klatch. Is this a full vibrant culture? No. It is the barest sketchings of what could be one. But it makes no claims to be, and no claims to be authentic, and is very clear that the people are no less people than anyone else. To me, that is the smartest thing Pratchett could have done here, and he did it well.
Which leads us to racism, prejudice, division, and jokes. I think the line “only joking” is used at least once and probably multiple times. At least one is when Ahmed threatens someone with violence. It brings to mind this classic from Malcolm Tucker’s deep cuts:
“Well I’ll just have to kill the both of you, then! That’s a joke, by the way. Not a nice one, a nasty one, which masks a lot of very negative feelings about this fucking department.”
I’m not going to say every instance of “only joking” in the world is a lie, but a lot of them are. Most of them are like the very sweary Scotsman are saying: they’re masking something. When Angua jokes about ripping a throat out, it’s because part of her wishes she could take that easy violent way out. When Ahmed jokes about a stroke at shoulder level dealing with all problems, it’s because they deal with most of his problems and he wants to demonstrate to Vimes that actually, yes he is from a different world, and it’s a harder more violent one.
When Colon talks a bunch of shit about Klatchians… well, he doesn’t even say only joking. But the attitude suffuses his actions. The desire to be negative without taking consequences (he says it after annoying Nobby once). The intention to create distance between himself and others. The same things lie behind the not very funny jokes Vimes thinks about early on. And the desire to distance and avoid consequences lies behind a lot of prejudice. You don’t have to apologise for sticking a Klatchian’s head over an inn if they’re not like you.
Which means you can have a war over something as little as a few miles of fertile land with a natural anchorage in a great strategic location. Or in the name of unity. If you are all different from someone else, you’ve got something in common, don’t you? There’s so many elements of prejudice, but the way it can be manipulated to create these senses of togetherness that enable unusual acts to be taken is the main one on display here. Mostly bad and unusual no less.
Jokes are a great way to help shape it. It’s why Pratchett talks about them so often in Jingo; he doesn’t really show the process, just alludes to it quietly over and over. You’re a dick if you argue with a joke, aren’t you? But one leads to another. It changes perceptions. Jokes change people’s opinions and you’re not really allowed to argue with them. There’s a reason Saul Alinsky called ridicule man’s most potent weapon. It’s not a statement anyone at the end of something sharp or explosive will agree with, but it’s still really potent.
Just ask Vetinari. Ultimately, he gets rid of Cadram – and defangs Rust in the process – by making them look ridiculous. Slightly more darkly, he establishes his rapport with the Klatchian crowd by making Colon a subject of ridicule for all there. Vetinari uses his powers for good, but much like Weatherwax, he clearly has the skillset of an evil person.
In many ways, this is Vetinari’s book. He’s been growing more and more through the Watch books and this is arguably his biggest role. He will expound his philosophies more clearly in later books, but will rarely get to live them so thoroughly. Better to let some milk go than get a lot of mooing; better to go with the wind than wreck the boat; better a big crime concealed than a war. These are rarely seen as admirable qualities but Vetinari turns them into moral values, the qualities of a man who places human life above just about anything else, including justice. That’s one of the big dividing lines between Vimes and Vetinari; I wish we’d have many, many more books watching them spar, even if from a distance like here.
Those themes and the ways they play out through Vimes, Vetinari, and Colon aside, I don’t have a lot to add for the second time reader. I miss some of the dynamics from previous books; no Cheri-Angua or Cuddy-Detritus level bonds here. Visit and Reg Shoe just ain’t as great. I guess there’s Colon-Nobby, but like Nobby’s perfumes, a little goes a long way and a lot just makes you feel light-headed. I miss the glimpses into the antagonists’ mindset, even if I think it was the right decision. We don’t get as much as we could out of Carrot here and Angua, as they’re peripheral to the second half when we get out of the city. This is a different book to the City Watch books before it and I think the Vimes away from home model was a little unpolished here.
Tune in next time I do a City Watch re-read to see just how much the away from home model progresses!