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Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett (1998) 378 p.

carpe jugulum

The curious thing about Carpe Jugulum is that before re-reading I remembered virtually none of it; just fleeting moments, like the meadow with strange clouds or Granny Weatherwax driving the heat of her fever into the iron of an anvil. This stands in stark contrast to Discworld books like Lords and Ladies, or most of the City Watch arc. As a rule of thumb, if I don’t remember the plot, it’s probably not a great book.

Carpe Jugulum (which is of course dog Latin for “seize the throat”) involves a family of modern-thinking vampires descending on Lancre and seizing control in a bloodless (for the moment) coup, by using their mesmeric powers to sway the king and the townspeople into hypnotic obedience; as usual it’s up to Granny Weatherwax’s coven to defend the country and defeat the supernatural menace.

On a comedic level, I can see why it didn’t stick in my mind. The jokes about the Count attempting to indoctrinate his family out of being vulnerable to traditional things like garlic, sunlight etc rather fall flat, particularly when contrasted against the idea that his father, the Old Count, was a “sporting” vampire who always let the villagers win every generation or so and was much loved for it. Pratchett seems to be going for some kind of office management joke or political metaphor about how Good Honest Folk don’t like change and maybe the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t, etc – maybe it’s some kind of comment on the Blair government, given the date – but it’s difficult to say because it just doesn’t really work, and mostly feels like outdated, low-hanging fruit.

On a plot level, too, I can see why Carpe Jugulum was unmemorable. An enormous amount of it is dialogue, and while that’s not necessarily such a bad thing with Pratchett, this is one of his books which leans more towards moralising and lecturing as opposed to a genuinely interesting conflict of ideas. One of the most widely quoted lines of Granny Weatherwax’s is paraphrased from this exchange:

“There’s no greys, only white that’s got grubby. I’m surprised you don’t know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.”
“It’s a lot more complicated than that…”
“No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.”

“Sin is when you treat people as things.” It’s a good line, a straightforward definition of the nature of evil delivered with Granny’s typical rustic bluntness. But it’s delivered not during some climactic confrontation with the vampires, but rather a conversation she’s having in the rain on the back of a donkey with a priest. The climactic confrontation, in fact, comes about halfway through the book, and leaves Pratchett to spin his wheels for another couple of hundred pages before having a second, rather more lacklustre climax again in the last 30 pages. It certainly lacks the build-up and gravitas of Granny facing down the elf queen in Lords and Ladies, or her own sister in Witches Abroad, and I think very few fans would dispute that the Witches arc peaked a fair bit earlier than Carpe Jugulum. It’s not a bad book, but certainly a forgettable one, and one of the weakest in the otherwise very strong run of Discworld books from 20-30.

Next up is the very first one I ever read, #24, The Fifth Elephant.

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