Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett (Doubleday, £16.99, 285 pages, hardback. Published October 1998.)
It is to be expected that most writers with long-running series will eventually run out of creative steam, and start either repeating themselves (David Eddings springs to mind, recycling plots after a mere half a dozen novels), succumbing to severe flatulence (Robert Jordan and his ever-expanding series, each book more blimp-like than the last), or simply turn out increasingly dire variations on a theme (Piers Anthony's excruciating collection of feeble puns masquerading as fiction). There are others, though, who simply get better as they go along. Terry Pratchett's twenty-third Discworld book conclusively proves that he is still refining his craft, still mastering the nuances, still finding new ways to keep the series alive and kicking arse.
As with almost any Discworld novel, Carpe Jugulum starts with a select bundle of clichés, adds seasoning, a twist of the unexpected and then the author lets it rise with just a few well-concealed ingredients to spice up the mix. In this case, the clichés he starts with are a royal christening with suitable witchy godmothers (for this is a Lancre story, which means Granny Weatherwax and her coven are in attendance) and some quickly unwelcome guests (a family of vampires from neighbouring Uberwald, invited in as a result of King Verence's political naïveté). The vampires, however, are of a modern persuasion: not satisfied with merely sucking on a few people's necks, this family wants to rule the country. And as they quickly prove to be garlic-loving appreciators of holy symbols with a tolerance of at least moderate sunlight, the denizens of Lancre, witches included, soon find themselves running out of ideas about how to shift the blood-sucking usurpers. Any similarities between Pratchett's 'vampyres' and Anne Rice's creations are, I'm sure, purely coincidental.
As followers of the Discworld series can readily imagine, the scene is set for a right royal battle of wits between Granny Weatherwax's coven and the vampyres, and Pratchett doesn't disappoint. He also manages to keep the tension going in the story right to the very end, while retaining that brilliant comic sense that he has always had. As a result, Carpe Jugulum is an enormously satisfying read, clever in more ways than just being very funny (which almost goes without saying). Far from tailing off, Pratchett's talents seem to be expanding, a fact that will delight his many fans, and give doubters cause to come back and try the Discworld books again. Seriously funny, peculiarly brilliant.
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© John D Owen 28 November 1998