The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett
Lord Vetinari is dragging Ankh-Morpork and its City Watch into the modern age, but not everyone is happy. Now, instead of just leaving their carriages on the street, people that stop traffic and business will have to watch as a troop of trolls hauls their carriage away (unless they can afford to bribe Sergeant Colon). And although many of Ankh-Morpork’s dwarfs still cling to the old ways, others have begun to act radically: female dwarfs like Cheery Littlebottom not only admit that they are women but have also begun to wear… dresses!
Times are changing, but crime continues. Commander Sam Vimes and his team discover that a replica Scone of Stone has been stolen. The Scone is a Dwarf artifact — a piece of rock-hard bread that the Low King of the Dwarfs requires for coronation. As he inspects the scene, Vimes reflects that:
He enjoyed moments like these, the little bowl of time when the crime lay before him and he believed that the world was capable of being solved. This was the time when you really looked to see what was there, and sometimes the things that weren’t there were the most interesting things of all.
However, Vimes finds too many clues to easily solve the case, and, besides, this Scone is a replica, so what’s the point of stealing it?
Before the case of the missing scone can proceed, however, Lord Vetinari sends Vimes to Uberwald to serve as ambassador. Home to vampires, werewolves, trolls, dwarfs, and stitched-together Igors, Uberwald seems old fashioned, lawless, and, well, supernatural in a Bram Stoker’s Transylvania sort of way. However, Carrot, a human raised by dwarfs, and Cheery, who now likes to carry a glittery battle-axe as an accessory, assure Vimes that Uberwald is not so strange. In fact, many of Ankh-Morpork’s dwarfs still dream of retiring to Uberwald to start a small mine.
After all, Uberwald is rich in resources, which is why Vimes is not sent to Uberwald as a policeman. He is to serve as an ambassador and he is to negotiate a fair price for Uberwald fat. However, when Vimes arrives in Uberwald, he discovers that the original Scone of Stone has also been stolen and someone among the dwarves, the werewolves, and the vampires is trying to decide what path Uberwald will take as more of the rest of the Disc enters the modern age. The case of the missing scones is reopened and Vimes the Diplomat/ Policeman sets to work.
Pratchett’s exploration of modernization is at the heart of many DISCWORLD novels, so what sets The Fifth Elephant apart? At first, not very much. Usually, the Watch novels stand out for the crazy antics of the Watch, but The Fifth Elephant devotes much of its exposition and rising action to a dreaded love triangle between a human, Carrot, a werewolf, Angua, and a wolf, Gavin. Gavin has a strong scent, but he’s otherwise more of the strong, silent type. (To Pratchett’s credit, he does predict the rise of the supernatural love triangle in YA.) With Vimes and Carrot out of the city, Fred Colon is left in charge of the Watch. However, he is more concerned with discipline and sugar than he is with law and order, prompting Nobby to start a strike. This plot goes nowhere, ends abruptly, and I found myself wishing that Fred and Nobby could have just gone to Uberwald with Vimes.
Fortunately, Pratchett focuses the second half of the novel on its primary plot in Uberwald. Vimes is not a natural diplomat, and he naturally distrusts vampires, struggles to understand dwarfs, and probably underestimates the threats posed by werewolves, so what’s the worst that can happen? Without spoiling the ending, he ends up in a lot of trouble in the middle of Uberwald and has to fight and outthink his way out of it. With the brief exception of a spoof on Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, this sequence showcases Pratchett’s underrated ability to write SFF adventure.
The Fifth Elephant is the 24thDISCWORLD novel and the fifth to follow the exploits of the City Watch. Readers will benefit from having some familiarity with the preceding Watch novels, and skipping ahead to this one will lead to some minor spoilers and confusion. The Fifth Elephant contains more misfires than Pratchett’s best Watch novels, but patient readers will reach one of the most action packed adventures that Commander Vimes has faced.
Discworld — (1983-2015) Discworld is a satirical fantasy world created by Terry Pratchett to poke fun at 1980s fantasy novels. Since then, they’ve evolved so that they now make fun of everything. Mr. Pratchett explains Discworld: “The world rides through space on the back of a turtle. This is one of the great ancient world myths, found wherever men and turtles are gathered together; the four elephants were an indo-European sophistication. The idea has been lying in the lumber room of legend for centuries. All I had to do was grab it and run away before the alarms went off… There are no maps. You can’t map a sense of humor. Anyway, what is a fantasy map but a space beyond which There Be Dragons? On the Discworld we know There Be Dragons Everywhere. They might not all have scales and forked tongues, but they Be Here all right, grinning and jostling and trying to sell you souvenirs.” The Discworld novels are presented here in publication order. To read more about the Discworld “arcs” and reading order, see this Wikipedia article.
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