RED Book 21: The Fifth Elephant – Terry Pratchett

So we’re up to Discworld #24 – only 15 books behind now!

Fifth Elephant is a City Watch novel. Or actually it’s a Vimes book with some appearances by other Watch characters, notably Carrot and Angua.

Vimes is sent as Ankh-Morpork’s ambassador to Uberwald for the coronation of the Dwarves new Low King. However when he gets there he becomes involved in solving a crime, the theft of a precious cultural artefact. This in turns leads to him being embroiled in political machinations and a power struggle between the Dwarves, Vampires and Werewolves who are the various ruling factions of Uberwald. As the plot unfolds Vimes finds himself fighting just to stay alive.

The early part of the story, is centred on this theft which functions both as a pleasing “locked door” mystery, and a gentle fun-poking at the idea of “locked door” mysteries. I enjoyed both elements.

I also liked the character interactions especially between Vimes and Lady Sybil, but also between Carrot and Angua – whose family is from Uberwald (remember she’s a werewolf). As ever Vimes is a character I enjoy, though he is a little too competent at times. However there were at least a couple of how’s-he-going-to-get-out-of-this? situations where it was luck or someone else that effected his escape/rescue rather him just being super-cop.

It’s an interesting problem, perhaps unique to a series like the Discworld books, because if I read this book as a stand-alone I wouldn’t have an issue with Vimes coming out on top – he’s the hero. So despite not having the raw strength of a werewolf, the powers of a vampire, the fighting skills of an assassin or sheer numbers of the dwarves, he wins through, mostly on his wits. As I say this shouldn’t be a problem, and it wouldn’t be…

…except there’s this niggling thing because I know there are other Discworld books where the protagonist is a Wizard or a vampire or an assassin and the story is from their point of view and it seems like magic or the dexterity and skills of a trained killer, or supernatural ability or whatever becomes the final word in competency. And maybe that’s all ok. Maybe it can be any of those things in different stories and really it is just about pov, but somehow I feel like I back in my days of Buffy fan discussion arguing who’s stronger than who, or what[1]. Anyway that’s all probably just me.

This was one of Pratchett’s “many endings” books, which I’ve mentioned before as being a weakness for me. I think I mind it less here but there are several plot strands that get set up and when what I think is the big climatic scene, which ties up say 2 or 3 of them, there are still a few left to wrap – which is does but in a relative sedate fashion. I think at a certain point[2] you have to accept that’s his style and at least live with it.

Overall it’s an enjoyable book. Not my favourite Discworld, not even my favourite Watch book[3] but definitely worth the read.

7/10 – Discworld delivers another solid fun read.

[1] Classic case would be the ‘cage’ in the Library which at various stages contained various monsters, at least one of which managed to escape by forcing his way out and was then bested by another who was never able to get out of that particular cage.
[2]book 24 perhaps?
[3]Guards Guards![4]
[4]at least so far. I’m told Night Watch is excellent.


About shuggie

My name is Shuggie, Paul or LatePaul depending on where you know me from. I work in computers (databases) and occasionally write about softw
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