by Terry Pratchett
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In my review of Pratchett's previous novel, The Last Continent, I proposed that Pratchett alternated good and not-so-good books. I felt The Last Continent was on the low side of the balance. Judging by that theory, Carpe Jugulum should be on the high side. Reading Carpe Jugulum, I've come to another conclusion. I can recognize a good Pratchett book because I want to read it out loud to my wife, my daughter, or anyone else who will listen to me. I'm happy to report, that my wife kept telling me to be quiet as I read Carpe Jugulum.
Carpe Jugulum opens on the eve of Magrat and King Verence's daughter's naming ceremony. In an effort to fit into what he perceives as the new world order, Verence has chosen to invite guests from all the neighboring kingdoms, including such questionable decisions as Count Magpyr, the vampire, and Mightily Oats, a priest of the proselytizing god Om. The story follows Nanny Ogg and Agnes/Perdita, two of Lancres witches, who question Verence's decision to invite a priest of Om, who have been known, in the past, to burn witches.
Pratchett's satirical ability, therefore, is turned to three targets. Rural life, which he has lampooned often throughout the Discworld series, vampire fiction and film, and religion and faith. The kingdom of Lancre represents Pratchett's view of an idyllic countryside turned sideways. The king holds his position of authority mostly by not asking anyone to do anything they aren't inclinded to do anyway. His servants are all members of the Ogg family and owe more allegiance to their mater familias than to the king.
Count Magpyr and his family have, evidently, been reading vampire novels and watching vampire movies (made, no doubt, in Holywood (see Moving Pictures). As Pratchett points out, there are some things everyone knows about vampires. In Carpe Jugulum, the vampires also know those things and have either gone out of their way to avoid them or grown accustomed enough that they aren't bothered by them. Related to his vampire humor is an attack on the "Goth" movement as the various vampires try to adopt more mundane names.
Pratchett is at his most satirical, and most poignant, when he looks at the religion of Om, one of his strong points as evidenced by Small Gods, his religious satire widely regarded as the best novel in the Discworld series. Although the witches view the Omnian religion with scorn, Granny Weatherwax, in a surprisingly supporting role, holds several important discussions with Mightily Oats, frequently taking a view which seems at odds with her usually pragmatic self.
There are some points in Carpe Jugulum where Pratchett's plot seems to get lost, but these are few and occur in relatively unimportant sections of the novel. Carpe Jugulum serves to remind the readers that good satires are more than merely funny. They also force the reader to consider their targets in a new light, seeing both the serious as well as the ridiculous.
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