- the preparations for the christening of the baby daughter of King Verence and Queen Magrat of the small kingdom of Lancre;
- the plans for taking over Lancre by a family of vampires, the Magpyrs;
- the quest for religious enlightenment by Mightily Oats, a priest who has made his way to Lancre to spread the word of Om (one of the Discworld’s many gods).
Opposing the vampires’ dastardly schemes are the witches (Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Agnes Nitt), Oats, the king and queen (the former with great and quite indiscriminate violence after he has been given strong drink by the small blue Nac Mac Feegle), as well as various inhabitants of Lancre, previously met in other books.
The vampires are formidable opponents, particularly since the Count has been training his family and their hangers-on how to deal with the usual methods of vampire repulsion techniques, such as the brandishing of holy symbols, holy water, garlic and daylight; the vampires can fly, have superhuman strength, and excellent mind control. What the Count really wants is to make the local population want to have their blood drunk by the vampires (or at least to acquiesce in a plan which makes the humans more like cows to be milked).
Granny Weatherwax points out that vampires are not mindless creatures like animals, and that they can choose, or not, to behave in the ways they do, but that they should never forget that they aren’t human, and that they do not have the right to blood.
Oats’ religious quest is an interesting one, since when we meet him, he is unsure of his calling, and is rather diffident in person; but he discovers, though helping Granny Weatherwax, and fighting the vampires, that he does have a vocation, and where it lies (and, incidentally, it’s nice to have him mentioned again in passing in Unseen Academicals).
Carpe Jugulum is stuffed with entertaining characters, from Agnes and her alter ego Perdita, to the painfully matter-of-fact Hodgesaargh, the castle’s falconer. One of the nice things about the series nature of Pratchett’s world is to see how the characters do change and grow through the series: Magrat is still learning to be Queen, but finds herself more ferocious now that she’s a mother – a far cry from the ‘wet hen’ of the earliest books in which she features; and Granny Weatherwax is still battling the tendency for most powerful witches to “go bad”.
There are many moments of laugh-out-loud humour, as well as scenes of pain and despair, since Pratchett doesn’t treat the Discworld books as subjects for farce (though there are farcical elements), but treats his characters with respect, as well as amusement.