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‘Granny Weatherwax is going to hear about this, and you’ll wish you’d never been born…or un-born or reborn or whatever you are!’

‘We look forward to meeting her,’ said the Count calmly. ‘But here we are, and I don’t seem to see this famous lady with us. Perhaps you should go and fetch her? You could take your friends. And when you see her, Miss Nitt, you can tell her that there is no reason why witches and vampires should fight.’

Pratchett and vampires? Oh you do know how to make me happy.

I have always liked the Discworld take on vampires, which is essentially that they are pathetic poseurs (which is how you spell ‘posers’, in this instance). However, the Discworld also happens to be a fantasy world where racial pluralism is a reality (take that Tolkien!) so there are vampires who are members of the Black Ribbon society in Ankh-Morpork. Sure they are undead, but do they have to live as monsters? – is their creed and it is a very amusing take on the traditional fiend.

With Carpe Jugulum Pratchett returns to oldschool vampires, with a slight twist. No more talk of temperance. Just systematic murder, organised under the simple principle of their being superior to humans and all the other ‘low’ races of the Discworld.

The story itself is set in the kingdom of Lancre, the setting for most of Pratchett’s Witches novels. Now some folk like Rincewind, others Vimes, but my personal favourite Discworld protagonist has always been Granny Weatherwax, the witch who will brook no nonsense (needless to say I am also a big Nanny Ogg fan). At the start of the story Granny is feeling her age once again, as well as a sense of isolation. She abandons Lancre in a fit of pique, believing that she was snubbed by her fellow witches and Queen Magrat when she does not receive an invitation to the royal baptism. Of course her departure comes at the worst possible juncture. King Verence, the former court fool who was revealed to have royal blood, is once again trying to be modern and extends an invitation to a very important family from the Überwald region.  Except of course they are vampires and by inviting them, Verence has literally just handed them the keys to the kingdom.

Only Agnes Nitt seems to be immune to the glamour of the vampires. The youngest of the Lancre witches, Agnes literally has a thin girl inside her trying to get out – which is to say, she hears this voice in her head making a running commentary on everything that she does wrong. This ‘Perdita’, allows her to resist the influence of the vampires, enough for her to realize what is happening to the rest of the citizens of Lancre. Her only companion is a young priest from the theocratic state of Omnia, last seen in an early Pratchett novel Small Gods (which happens to be one of my favourites). Mightily Oats suffers from profound religious doubt about his vocation, so like Agnes he too is of ‘two minds’, about everything. Together they try to organise the people of Lancre to rise up against the racial supremacist vampires and find Granny Weatherwax before it is too late.

Pratchett is simply too clever by half at times. Yes on initial inspection this book seems like a merging of Small Gods and that *other* book about Lancre falling victim to an invasion Lords and Ladies. It is a brilliant combination of themes though. The crisis of faith suffered by Mightily Oats allows the writer to expound on his humanist beliefs to great effect.

What’s more the book also addresses the limits of tolerance in multicultural society. This is something of a bugbear with me, the notion that ‘multiculturalism has failed‘ continues to gain traction in political circles, which is absurd as the definition of what it means seems to change all the time. Different races living together is nothing new. What has changed is that now there is this expectation that races should be treated with equal respect, under a shared national identity, which is where politicos come grinding to a halt. How can a statesman exploit class and racial divisions in a multicultural society? The very idea.

Pratchett wittily dispenses with all of this in a book about vampires, little blue people with Scots accents and a dwarf highwayman. This is why he is the master.

Wonderful book.

She thought of the faeries she had known when she was a child – impish, quick things – no mention of wars or magical arrows or enemies, certainly no lies, no deception. The man bleeding in the dirt beside her told her how wrong her perceptions of Faery had been.

I was a little wary about reading this book. The cover carries a single word rave from Michael Moorcock, ‘Superb’, and after my last brush with the kind of books that warrant his approval, I was afraid my favourite fantasy author had steered me wrong once again.

As it happens this book is a surprising update of Celtic mythology in a modern setting, with no shrinking away from sexual undertones and the capriciousness of ‘the Fae’. In fact the darker tone of this book reminded me of Terry Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies, which includes the following passage (and for the purposes of this review, read for ‘elves’, ‘fairies’) –

Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.
Elves are marvellous. They cause marvels.
Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
Elves are terrific. They beget terror.

Sixteen-year old Kaye gets that most people think she’s a weird kid. After all, she’s lived a pretty weird life. She never knew her father, as she is the product of her mother’s promiscuous past as a rock chick groupie. Her Asian features combined with bright blond hair tends to turn heads wherever she goes. Also she dropped out of school a few years ago so she could work in a Chinese takeaway to help her failed musician mother pay their bills. Oh and when she was a kid, she was visited by faeries.

When the latest in a long line of crummy boyfriends assaults her mother, Kaye’s grandmother agrees to let them stay until they can find somewhere else to live. During the day Kaye pretends to go to school and hangs out with friends she has not seen in years. The faces from her childhood are not only older now, but carry the glazed expression of drink that she has grown familiar with from life on the road with her mother. Still they are the only friends she has. Kaye is used to living with less.

She goes out one night with her childhood friend Janet and a group of boys to hang out at an abandoned fair-ground. There Kenny, Janet’s boyfriend, suddenly becomes very forward with Kaye. Alarmed, she runs out into the night despite a raging storm. On her way home she comes upon a man dressed like a knight in black armour, lying in the mud with an iron-tipped arrow piercing his chest. He reveals to her that he is a faerie indentured into the service of the Queen of the Unseelie Court. When Kaye tricks him into revealing his true name, the two are bound together for better or worse. She soon discovers not only has she lived a weird life, but she herself is a lot weirder than anyone could have imagined.

While this book could easily be seen as yet another example of the ‘dark romance’ genre that is flooding the market now thanks to the success of Twilight and copycat novels, Holly Black infuses her mythic tale with a fantastical vision of sexuality more akin to novels by Clive Barker, or Poppy Z. Brite.

I mean this as a compliment. In transporting this tale of changelings, warring faerie courts and conniving monarchs to a modern setting, Black retains much of the sexually charged content of the original fairy tales. In particular the character of Nephamael, whose clothing is entwined with thorns, is an unabashed representation of gay S&M themes.

This is actually the first book in a new series of novels by Black, who also wrote The Spiderwick Chronicles for children. While this book does not shy away from portraying the difficulties faced by its teenage characters in these disaffected times – escaping into alcohol, sex and even comic books to avoid ‘real life’ – I would not recommend it for readers under sixteen.

I love the parallel corruption of Kaye’s fantasy world as a dark reflection of the adult world she is entering into. As a metaphor for the loss of innocence that comes after childhood, Tithe is well-paced and relatable.

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