CARPE JUGULUMA novel by Terry Pratchett
(1998, Doubleday & Company)
Discworld Witches, book 6
The witches try to defeat a family of new-age vampires who were invited into their country and have taken over.
-- First reading (hardcover)
Well written, but not as funny as I was hoping the novel would be.Spoiler review:
Terry Pratchett is known for his humour, and I have found this to be representative in all of the Discworld novels that I have read. Much of the humour comes from his tongue-in-cheek writing style, where everything can be anthromorphosized, and many inanimate objects often suggests opinions. The people in Lancre, where the witches in the Witch Novels dwell, are not very bright, but they stick to what they know best, whatever that happens to be. The character humour comes mostly from talking about how people behave when they are being normal, as opposed to being "intelligent". Most of the humour, however, comes in the form of Nanny Ogg, middle witch in the coven. She has no form of scruples, and will do anything -anything- if the mood strikes her. I loved the way she was dumbfounded when Agnes (first introduced in Maskerade) tried to explain that Perdita was her inner self, the one who thinks all of the thoughts she could never think of and still be Agnes. Most of us have an inner Perdita, even if the dichotomy between our inner and outer selves is not so pronounced. But Nanny Ogg could never have an inner Perdita, because she always says what she is thinking, and does what she feel like doing, without restraint!
The people of Lancre know Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, and they know how to treat these witches. When the priest asks why the people of Lancre would be willing to let Granny go out into the wild where there are all sorts of beasts, they are at a loss as to how to answer the question. Finally, they respond by asking why they should care what happens to a bunch of beasts... They know how powerful the witches are, and they respect them, and know that they will protect the village with all of their strength.
Of course, Granny uses headology to defeat all of the threats to Lancre. The threat in this book comes in the form of a family of Vampires, Count and Countess Magpyr and their son and daughter.
All of the vampire stereotypes are here, from garlic and lemon to wooden stakes, holy water, daylight, mind control, flying, weather control, and more. And, of course, being invited. These are new-age vampires, to go with the new world order. King Verence is a very forward-thinking King, and Queen Magrat (former witch and coven member) encourages him do all of the "modern" things that he wants. Being a player on the world stage means, to Verence, being kind to all of your neighbors. So he invited the vampire family to the naming ceremony of their daughter.
Apparently the book that Verence ordered in Maskerade worked well enough to produce an offspring. One of my favorite sections of the book comes more than halfway through, when Magrat reveals that she knows all about (and understands!), many of the jokes that Nanny Ogg used to tell, all of a sexual nature, of course. Nanny is just shocked! But of course, Magrat is a mother now.
The funniest part of the book has to come very early on, during the naming ceremony. A new priest in town performs the ceremony, and has the baby's name written under his hat. Magrat, of course, wanted to avoid the problem with her name that obviously occurred at her own naming ceremony. So she added a note to the name, which being said officially at the official time, became the official name: Esmeralda Margaret NOTE SPELLING of Lancre! I laughed so hard, especially when Nanny and Agnes start questioning about it, and the author goes into detail about other names that were screwed up, like when a donkey wandered through a ceremony once, and so on. Nanny remarks that the kids will end up calling her "Spelly"! The people of Lancre are very strict, so that once the name is given, it cannot be changed.
Granny isn't in much of the early sections of the book. One reason is that magpies took her invitation, so she thinks she wasn't invited to the naming ceremony, and takes that as an insult, so decides to leave for good. When she discovers the truth, she stays away because the vampires are looking for her, so that they may turn her into one of their own. Once invited, vampires tend to stay, and these ones have no problem getting into the heads of the people of Lancre, including King and Queen, as well as Nanny. Agnes is immune to their mind control, because of Perdita, as it turns out. Anyone who has two minds can resist. The priest, Mightily Oats, is also always of two minds about everything, arguing constantly with himself about Truth and the meaning of Om (his god). I loved his practical solution at building a fire in the rain, using the words of Om (the prayer book), but there were not enough words to create a second fire.
Nanny, Agnes, Oats and a Lancre mob try their best to remove the vampires, but to no avail. This family was trained for many years by Count Magpyr to resist all of the traditional symbols that defeated vampires of the past. So they eat garlic treats, and have religious symbols all over the place, while walking around in the day (given that they used their weather control to keep it overcast).
It is up to Granny Weatherwax to defeat the vampires, but we don't know that she actually succeeded until the end of the book. We know that she must have had some sort of plan when she walked into the castle and confronted them, all wet and weak, but the Count defeats her easily, and she is bitten to become a vampire.
Her trick, however, was to let them take her blood, and kept a bit of herself inside her blood, when everybody thought that she sent her mind and soul "wandering". Nanny, Agnes and Magrat think she threw herself into baby Esme, so try to protect the baby, although they end up in Uberwald, home of the vampires. Magrat was hilarious carrying the baby in a snugly while she went out on the dangerous adventure. A real working woman!
While Granny has a struggle with herself about not becoming a vampire (a struggle she eventually wins, but at great physical cost), the vampires don't realize that they have taken part of Granny into themselves. They no longer crave blood (tea instead), they can't hurt a child, and the traditional symbols start working on them again. Granny needs the help of Mightily Oats to get to Uberwald, but the vampires fly with Agnes (the son Vlad has taken a romantic interest in Agnes, because he can't control her) to a town they have "cowed", but which defeats its conditioning to fight back, thanks to Granny's influence. Nanny, Magrat and Igor (the vampires' servant who despises the idea of removing cobwebs from the dungeons and doors that don't speak) take control of the castle.
And the final confrontation comes at the castle, where even a phoenix takes part in the fight. The phoenix, which despises evil and can destroy it, had come to Lancre when the vampires did, and took the form of a hawk. The "intelligent" or book-read people "knew" that there can only be one phoenix at a time, but people like Nanny and Granny know that one of any species doesn't last long! The bird-master kept a feather burning bright, which was cool.
In the end, it is the combination of Granny's blood, the witches' preparations and Igor waking up the old master vampire before his time that defeats the new-age Magpyr family. The old master (or "mathter", with Igor's lisp) played fair, with plenty of things in the castle that could be used to kill a vampire. After all, they are reborn every time they die, anyway. The final blow was strung by Mightily Oats, who took the Count's head off with an axe, which seemed to be propelled by an almighty aura, allowing him to regain a bit of faith.
The book was very well written, especially once Granny Weatherwax joined in. Before that, I felt that the book dragged on for a bit. However, the last seventy-five pages were real fast-turners, and kept me very, very interested. Unfortunately, the humour was not as prevalent as I had hoped for. Mostly, I gave small chuckles every now-and-then, but little more.
I understand that there have been no more witch novels since this one was written. I hope the author changes this situation soon.
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