on 11 January 2008
Once an author is turning out a novel a year in a growing series he can be forgiven for getting rather stale. That isn't really a problem with Terry Pratchett: his output can be a bit uneven but overall the Discworld fantasies just seem to be getting better, and "The Fifth Elephant" is one of the best.
The wonderful Sam Vimes - clever, upwardly mobile but basically honest and down-to-earth chief of police of Ankh-Morpork - is sent with his aristocratic wife on a diplomatic mission to troubled realm of Uberwald. Why did the city's ruler Lord Vetinari, a man who could give Machiavelli lessons in deviousness, chose Vimes of all people for this delicate task? What exactly is going on in Uberwald, where the uneasy balance of power between dwarves, werewolves, and vampires seems to be breaking down? All is revealed in a book that is both dark and humorous, engrossing and highly entertaining.
Many of the usual characters we have come to know from the Discworld novels are here, and trying to make the best of an unfamiliar and threatening place and understand the peoples and their politics.
Once again Pratchett is the master not only of plot and character but also of the little aside, the fascinating but not overdone individual, the sly and amusing reference. We learn, for instance, that it is a social blunder to use the word "bath" to an upper-class werewolf when he is in human form, it makes him uncomfortable. We are introduced to a vampire equivalent of AA where members help each other keep off the human blood and get through "vun night at a time". We discover that the Low King of the Dwarves must be crowned sitting on a large, hard item called the great Scone of Stone - a clever one this, referring not only to the durability and lethal solidity of dwarfish bread as explained in previous novels but also to the Stone of Scone (pronounced "Skoon") on which for centuries the kings of Scotland were crowned. And much more...
If you know the characters you will enjoy the book even more, but Pratchett newbies could find a worse place to start than this one.
Role models are a major topic these days. Who are the good ones, and who the bad? Once we had monarchs, presidents, explorers, all good and/or bad with some migration from the first to the second. In Sam Vimes, we may have a unique example of the reverse.
When we first met Sam Vimes in GUARDS! GUARDS!, he was sodden in a gutter, soddin' drunk. Hardly an auspicious beginning for a heroic figure. Discworld heroes are often found in unusual circumstances, rarely admirable at first sight. Sam's a copper, Commander of Ankh-Morpork's Night Watch. It's a job to send any man's hand groping for support, even if the brace is in the form of a bottle. Now he's on his way to Uberwald. Trolls, Dwarves and Werewolves have all emigrated from this region, taking up residence in Sam's city. He hasn't shed his resentment at this intrusion, nor his suspicion of these bizarre life forms. His earlier cultural challenges came from the likes of Klatchians, who were at least human. The Patrician has made him a diplomat, a real challenge for a man with so little tact. He must deal with all these creatures he resents. Failure to deal successfully may result in his becoming part of the local cuisine.
Sam has an advantage over many of us. Strongly self-aware, he manages to control his temper and intemperance. He's pulled himself out of the gutter. Now the Duke of Ankh- Morpork, he's married into the city's aristocracy. His diplomatic skills are going to be put to severe tests. To ease the pressure, Sam is accompanied by his recently acquired spouse, Sybil Ramkin. Her presence with him on this venture is an indication of his newly elevated status, and recognition of her well established one. Ironically, Sam is also supported by some of his mates from the Watch, Detritus the Troll and forensic expert Cheery Littlebottom, a Dwarf. Both are originally from the Uberwald. Sam's diplomatic assignment is a commercial treaty and attendance of the Coronation of the Low King. Regrettably, not all Uberwald is happy with the new monarch, and Sam is drawn into a miasma of plots and counter plots no diplomat should enter.
Sam Vimes is anything but a hero of the ideal romantic stamp. His blemishes are apparent, but, to his credit, he recognizes them and deals with them. His temper, which he controls with effort, leads him into difficult situations. His prejudices blind him to unexpected values in people [and, in this case, a scruffy dog], but when he finally recognizes the truth, he acknowledges it. Maybe with glum grace, but without rancor. Pratchett has drawn him as a strikingly real figure. He's unique on the Discworld. And that's sad in one sense because both the Discworld and our world could do with more like him.
Pratchett's plots have never been overly convoluted or difficult to unravel. His wit more than makes up for that. His characters are immensely significant in these stories. Those of us who've followed Sam along the cobblestoned streets of his life will rejoice at this portrayal. They will also encounter an Angua with enhanced reality. And Sam and Sybil are . . .
[stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
on 24 January 2012
As we all know the Discworld is carried on the backs of four elephants that in turn stand upon the carapace of the giant galactic star turtle, the Great A'tuin. However, some time in the past there was another elephant. One that, for some reason still to be determined, plummetted to the surface of the discworld and whose fat deposits have become a lucrative dwarf mine. Things are afoot and Sam Vimes is on the case.
A good read and a good title pun. Adventure, humour, crime, deep insights and a wonderfully skewed perspective on the human condition as usual. Terry Pratchett can do no wrong in my eyes, although I do have to confess this story is not my most favourite.
on 4 February 2001
The Fifth Elephant is the 24th Discworld novel.
In Ankh-Morpork, the Scone of Stone, the Dwarfs' sacred relic, has been stolen, and the director of the rubber factory has just been murdered.
As Sam Vimes is sent on a diplomatic mission to Uberwald for the coronation of the new King of the Dwarfs, and Captain Carrot has gone in search of missing Angua, Lord Vetinari reluctanctly promotes Fred Colon as Captain of the Watch...
Although presented as a novel of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, the action is principally centered on Sam Vimes and his struggle with the not-so-nice werewolves of Uberwald.
With its numerous winks to our own world, as well as the guest appearence of dear characters such as DEATH or Gaspode the Wonder Dog, the Fifth Elephant turns out as funny as I expected a Pratchett novel to be. Definitely a very good read!
on 5 January 2004
Once again Terry Pratchett has turned out another classic. I have read every one of his books and this is without doubt the best, as usual parodying society by holding up his mirror world Pratchett has combined who-dunnit, satire, surrealism and parody into one storyline impossible to put down. Many people say it was impossible to put a book down, but I found myself eight hours after picking this book up having not moved untill the last line. Need I say more!
More sublime wit from the pen of Terry Pratchett - starring my favourite Pratchett character, Sam Vimes, who is sent by Ankh Morpork's benevolent Tyrant, Vetinari, as diplomat to the Uberworld whose chief inhabitants are Vampires, Werewolves and above all Dwarves. The Low King is about to be crowned but someone has stolen the Scone of Stone, without which the coronation cannot take place. The star is Vimes, but a big part is also played by Angua, the Watch's only werewolf member, not least because the chief villain is her rather nasty brother Wolfgang - not at all the sort of werewolf you'd want to meet on a dark night without whatever it is that wards off werewolves (is there anything?). Further character-development is given to the ineffably good and love-lorne Captain Carrot, brought up as a Dwarf, even though he's around six feet and still counting and somehow or other connected to the defunct throne of Ankh Morpork - not that he would ever wish to claim it.
The wit flashes effervescently throughout - one of its best features is the extended metaphor: "He sagged to his knees. He ached all over. It wasn't just that his brain was writing cheques that his body couldn't cash. It had gone beyond that. Now his feet were borrowing money that his legs hadn't got, and his back muscles were looking for loose change under the sofa cushions."
This novel is funny, adroit, oddly prescient with its dwarf priests as rabidly anti-progress as a wagonful of Taliban militia, and a sheer pleasure to read.
on 30 January 2001
From start to finish this book has been both a joy and a pain. The joy is the wit and humour that fans of Pratchett have come to expect, the pain is that of your eyes struggling to stay open in the small hours of the night whilst your partner digs you in the ribs so you will switch of your bedside lamp to allow them at least a few hours sleep. Terry Pratchett has embarked on a whole new territory in this, his 26th visit to the Hubs of Discworld. Never has Politics been so much fun to read, in many respects it takes a side-swipe at all politicians and how they conduct themselves, however this time it throws in a player (Sam Vimes) totally new to the political/diplomatic scene. For die hard fans this book is a must some of the best of Pratchetts old characters are in this novel doing what they do best, making a simple situation turn into a chapter of sniggers, guffaws and generally coffee spurting reading. Personally Sam Vimes and his merry band of Watchmen are my favourite set of DiscWorld characters (Closely followed by the Wyrd Sisters). What makes this novel and these characters so refreshing is the UN-politically correctness of them all, in todays society of PC it is good to read a book un-afraid to step over the mark in the name of humour, of course Pratchett can get away with it when you are talking about Vampires, Trolls, Werewolves and dwarves of an imaginary world. Nevertheless it will have readers wiping tears of elation from their cheeks laughing at the stereotyping written in a way only Pratchett can. This book has been a joy to read and I for one cannot wait to get my hands on another Discworld Novel.
on 16 May 2000
Well I have to confess to having read pretty much all the Prachett books and I feel that the begining books were probably the funniest but lacked a definitive plot some would say that this was a good thing and what made the author different and special, but personally i have preferred the later books plots and characterisations. This novel combines the two in my opinion with some stonking lines "they did have torture here, they only replaced it when they realised lawyers are nastier" and some amazing insights into character Inigo "your theatrics could have lost the day" Vimes " oh you mean blinding him while keeping my nightsight" and all the related stuff. I guess that in this book for the first time you realise the change that has come over Vimes. In the first books he was a struggling loser battling acholhol dependancy and so we wrote him off somewhat, now we realise that before the alcohol took him he was sharp as a tack and a dangerous man.In this book we begin to see just how dangerous like a tiger in sheeps clothing.
So all in all i thought it was a great book which made me laugh and think in equal measure what more can you ask.
on 14 November 1999
Terry Pratchett is just such an amazingly gifted author that mere words cannot do him justice. I bought this on the expectation that it would be at least as good as the rest of the series, and I was not disappointed.
One thing I particularly noticed was that it was a bit more violent and gory than most of the Discworld novels - not *much*, but a little bit here and there. That's why I suggest it's not for the *very* squeamish. Other than that, I can't think of a single criticism. If anything, it was somehow more "realistic" (if that makes any sense in the context of a fantasy world) than any previous Discworld book. Pratchett just seems to continually improve himself, always managing to surprise us with a new idea. And it's very rewarding reading this after having read a number of other Discworld books in the past, because there a few jokes that you have to be "in the know" to get, and all the main characters (especially Vimes, Angua, Carrot, the Igors - well all of them in fact!) are very likeable characters that, the more you read about them, the more you get to like them!
on 15 November 1999
All Pratchett fans know there are first-string books (real stand-outs, like Guards! Guards! and Wyrd Sisters) and second-string books (like Reaper Man and Mort).
The Fifth Elephant needs a new category of its own - 'the whole violin' perhaps? Elephant V is a pearler -wonderful characters, more sub-plots than a dwarven graveyard, and a sense that Pratchett is taking the time to really poke around in his landscape, lifting up the rocks and trusting they recognise him as 'troll-friendly'.
As soon as I opened the book I was completely immersed in the life of seething Ankh Morpork (sort of like choosing to take a holiday in Beirut - ugly, but full of incident)and to the life I secretly carry with me wherever I go.
I care, damnit, what happens to Sybil. I want death to give me a fuller accounting on his feelings about the undead as they relate to his job performance. And (I admit it) I cried and cried at/ near the end.
And, thanks to Amazon, those of us stuck in the Antipodes can GET the book moths before local publishing. Ain't technology wonderful?
Gods Save the Duke of Ankh!