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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett

carpe jugulum terry pratchett book review
Carpe Jugulum, while being the darkest novel of Terry Pratchett's I've read to-date, is still an incredibly clever, witty and funny novel, making for an enormously satisfying fast-paced read, with tension mounting progressively to an almost unbearable climax.

King Verence of Lancre, carried away by modernization and democratization, invites the neighboring Uberwald's undead, the Magpyrs, into Lancre to celebrate the birth of his daughter. But once ensconced within the castle, Magpyrs the vampires (or, vampyres, as they like it) while seemingly genial and refined gradually unleash their bloodlust and their will to dominate in a vengeful and barbaric fashion.

The plot at the outset might seem similar to Lords and Ladies, in which elves tried to take over Lancre. However, in Lords and Ladies, the inherent nature of the elves was starkly different from the popular folkloric conception of them as fair and benevolent. Whereas, in Carpe Jugulum, the vampires have carefully and deliberately adapted themselves into seemingly genial creatures who relish garlic, tolerate holy water, venture out into the sun and defy the popular conventional wisdom that instructs how to keep them at bay.

Aside: As a former physics student, it is no surprise that one of my favorite quotes from Lords and Ladies is the one about Schrödinger's cat, adapted to describe Greebo, Nanny Ogg's feline menace:
In fact, the mere act of opening the box will determine the state of the cat, although in this case there were three determinate states the cat could be in: these being Alive, Dead, and Bloody Furious.

Lancre is home to some of my favorite characters of the Discworld - particularly the trio of witches I got introduced to in Wyrd Sisters - viz., Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and (Queen) Magrat.

The book also introduces Igor, the Magpyrs' family servant, who happens to speak with a hilariously heavy lisp and loves tradition, right down to the tradition of a lowly servant being treated as, well, a lowly servant. I later encountered Igors in Monstrous Regiment. Igor is one of the best characters in this book: not only is he made up of assorted body parts from other people, he is also good at sewing available body parts onto others in need, including his patchwork dog Scraps.

And, to tie up with another of his brilliant book, Small Gods, Pratchett also introduces a felicitous character - a priest of Om - through whom, it appears, Pratchett cleverly questions religious indoctrination and gives credence to Faith in its simple and unadulterated form.

In his inimitable style, Pratchett peppers the book with his take on the relationships between faith, religion, and morality through his characters, especially through the interactions between Granny and the Omnian Priest:

"It's not as simple as that. It's not a black and white issue. There are so many shades of gray. . . ."

"There's no grays, 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."

A tenuous and incidental alliance between Granny Weatherwax and the Omnian priest, along with a little nudge from Igor, plus resourceful and timely interventions by Nanny Ogg, Magrat and Agnes Nitt (aka Perdita) seem to be the prescription to cure Lancre of the foul Magpyrs' infection.

Granny Weatherwax, easily a formidable witch in her own right, is now faced with an even more formidable enemy and finds out that she has to just go for the throat, borrowing the vampyres' motto: Carpe Jugulum.

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