War is hell anywhere but in Pratchett's latest hilarious fantasy, the 28th wickedly satirical Discworld installment (after 2002's Night Watch), which makes some astute comments on power, religious intolerance and sexual stereotyping. Polly Perks, an exuberantly determined Borogravian barmaid, decides to disguise herself as a man to infiltrate the Tenth Foot Light Infantry (aka the Ins-and-Outs) and find her missing soldier brother, Paul. Polly/Oliver/Ozzer kisses a portrait of Grand Duchess Annagovia and enlists under old war-horse Sergeant ("I look after my lads") Jackrum. Shockingly, she eventually discovers most of the ragtag recruits are also female, including some Bad Girls who've escaped from the Girls' Working School, a coffee-craving vampire sworn off blood, a troll and a medic, all under the command of the male but very green Lieutenant Blouse and all absurdly delightful. The touching portrait of Wazzer, an abused girl who becomes a religious fanatic/saint, as well as Pratchett's perceptive handling of a timely topic—countries fighting over a quarrel that began 1,000 years ago and quibbling over borders—may inspire some sighs as well as laughter. And the author's take on what it takes for Polly to become a man—socks, strategically placed ("Just one pair, mark you. Don't get ambitious")—is nothing short of brilliant. (Sept. 30)
Forecast:A bestseller in his native Britain, Pratchett has drawn praise from such highbrow critics as A.S. Byatt and Michael Dirda. Despite a nine-city author tour, it may take a Discworld film adaptation to spark similar sales in the U.S.
Correction: The ISBN for the trade edition of The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases (Forecasts, Aug. 18) is 1-892389-54-1, not 1-892389-53-3, which is for the limited edition.