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Polly Perks by John Howe (on wikipedia)

Polly Perks is the central character in the novel Monstrous Regiment. She is the daughter of the owner of a famous inn known as the Duchess in the town of Muntz in Borogravia. She works there as a barmaid and is the one who should be inheriting the inn when her parents pass away instead of her brother because she is much more capable, can read and write and really runs the show. Her brother, Paul had enlisted in the Borogravian Army and has gone missing in action so Polly decides to join the army to find him. Nugganatic law does not allowed her to inherit the family business when her father dies and if her brother does not turn up the inn will go to Cousin Volopo who is a notorious drunkard who will lose it. She chooses a pseudonym of Oliver, after the main character in the folk song Sweet Polly Oliver, which is about a girl running off to join the army. Polly cuts off her hair, practices picking her nose, farting, swearing and walking like a man so that she will fit in. She then enlists in the Borogravian Tenth Foot regiment, known colloquially as the Ins-and-Outs (British slang for sex) or the Cheesemongers, as a Private but soon rises in the ranks to become a Sergeant. Private 'Ozzer' Perks serves with the colourful Sgt Jackrum, a reformed vampire named Maladict, a troll called Carborundum, an Igor, and a few even stranger people, who are, in fact, just humans. Over the course of the novel, she finds that all of the other recruits who joined up with her are in fact women pretending with varying degrees of success to be men. She has a number of experiences where her gender is almost revealed, notably when she forgets to scream after Lieutenant Blouse's horse bites her in the socks that she has stuffed down her pants to give her anatomy the necessary configuration. Lieutenant Blouse, like most men witnessing such a deed would probably do, faints. Under the instruction of the legendary Sergeant Jackrum, she discovers an aptitude for the soldiering life she never suspected she had, leading the regiment on a clandestine assault on the castle stronghold and negotiating a peace treaty. Even after she is found out to be a woman, she fights to stay on as a soldier. She is allowed to do so primarily owing to the intervention of the dead Grand Duchess Annagovia and a certain amount of blackmail on the part of Sergeant Jackrum.

Through the medium of a Ankh-Morpork Times political cartoon, drawn by Fizz, Polly gains notoriety on the international stage as the young soldier who kneed Prince Heinrich of Zlobenia in the groin. On her advice, Jackrum goes into retirement with his family after the end of the present conflict. When Heinrich seems likely to invade again, however, Jackrum sends her his cutlasses and, far more significantly, his book of names of officers he knows to be women. With the metaphorical torch passed, and in possession of a great deal of potential blackmail material, she comes out of her relative inactivity back at the family inn (with her brother home safe and sound) for a future career of an unknown but presumably interesting nature.


Growing up with only her father and an older brother who thinks a bit on the slower side, Polly is used to taking lots of responsibility. At the start of the book she has little aspirations outside of taking care of Paul and taking over the bar under him when their father dies, likely because under Nuggan law that’s just about all women can do.

Polly is rightfully cynical when it comes to Borogravian politics. Polly has seen many soldiers come home with various missing limbs and other trauma, one who even died in the Duchess bleeding out from newly-acquired war wounds. She becomes even more so when her much more naive brother Paul becomes persuaded to join the army. Her reasons for joining the army stem from the need to protect him and because if he died, there would be no one to legally own the Duchess. As she becomes a soldier and becomes more tied to the army, she feels obligated to stay.

Polly has a knack for many of the things that is involved with being a soldier. She is very observant and is shown to be a natural-born tactician and leader as the book moves along. With a little help from Jackrum, she becomes extraordinarily good at manipulating Lieutenant Blouse into getting what she wants. Though becoming a boy is a challenge for her, she eventually gets so good at it she temporarily forgets she isn’t one. Polly is also notably good at using a sword.

Because of her insistence she is only there to save her brother, Polly is often exasperated with the other Cheesemongers coming to her with their own personal problems, or even when others compliment her or try to get to know her as Maladict often does. Incidentally, interactions with Lofty and Tonker show Polly doesn’t know what lesbians are, either.

She especially stays close to Shufti, who ends up living with her in the Duchess, and Maladict, the only other Cheesemonger that rejoins the military. Polly gets along well with Lieutenant Blouse, despite finding him a bit pathetic. She develops an almost paternal bond with Jackrum, who is exceptionally proud of her.