The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett
Review by Joshua S Hill
When I am asked to pick my favourite Terry Pratchett book, The Fifth Elephant is always on my mind as a contender. Granted, it’s a contender insomuch as the Rock would be versus Ali, but it’s still in there! There are books that follow that outshine this book, but only in the way that one star outshines a slightly smaller star.
The twenty fourth Discworld novel is also the sixth City Watch story, and as such continues the urban development of Ankh-Morpork. There is now a traffic department, homing pigeons for communication between the Watch and international communication through the clacks. These books, beyond being a story of Samuel Vimes and his Watch, are a story of urban growth in a fantasy world without electricity.
The Fifth Elephant continues on the tales of Jingo by hosting another international flavour. This time however, instead of setting off across the sea to Klatch, they’re heading inland towards Überwald, home to a large majority of the ethnic minorities within Ankh-Morpork including three of Vimes’ best, Angua, Detritus and Cheery.
Sir Samuel Vimes, Commander of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch and Duke of Ankh, is sent as an envoy and ambassador from Ankh-Morpork to witness the coronation ceremony of the dwarf’s new Low King. Naturally, he’s also following the trail of a theft that started in Ankh-Morpork, making use of the trip like every good policeman should.
But the story really gets going when he arrives in Überwald, and there isn’t much I want to say about it. Encounters with the dwarves, vampires and werewolves make for some of the most thrilling action Pratchett has depicted, and storylines that once again only serve to remind me how much I love Samuel Vimes.
With the single exception of the role of Fred Colon back in Ankh-Morpork, this book is stellar. I’ve reread this book more than any of the other Pratchett books, enjoying it more and more each time. Vimes and Angua are brilliant in this book, and the introduction of Rhys Rhysson as the Low King is brilliantly done. The dwarf lore given to us really extends this book simply beyond a story and into something out of a long lost mythology. It’s the least comedic, I think, of the lot, with the possible exception of Night Watch, but with the loss of the comedy only left more room for one of the most ingenious stories I’ve ever read.
I say it again and again, but if you only pick up one Discworld book, this should definitely be a contender (although I’ll probably still recommend Night Watch or the Wee Free Men).
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