Ah yes, it’s time for another instalment in the Great Terry Pratchett Re-read-athon. The Fifth Elephant takes its title from the legend that there were once five elephants supporting the Discworld, and at some point in the distant and legendary past, one of them lost its footing, and after some odd orbital manoeuvres, crashed down onto the Disc, causing devastation, disaster and probably some other things beginiing with “d”. It also became buried deep in the ground of Uberwald, which is why the Disc’s finest fat mines are to be found there.
And Uberwald is where most of the fun happens. Lord Vetinari, Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, sends Commander Sam Vimes of the City Watch, in his capacity of Duke of Ankh, as an ambassador to the coronation of the Dwaves’ Low King. This is obviously a Cunning Plan on the part of Vetinari, as Vimes is well-known for being about as diplomatic as, ooooh, a giant elephant crashing to the ground.
In Sam’s absence, things go a wee bit wrong with the Watch, as Angua (A werewolf, originally from Uberwald, of course) disappears, closely followed by Carrot (A dwarf. Well, he looks human, but he was brought up by dwarves, so he’s a dwarf, so there). This leaves Sergeant Fred Colon in charge, which causes a little trouble in the ranks.
Talking of trouble, Sam finds plenty of it in Uberwald. There are factional disagreements in the dwarf communities, the vampires are up to one thing and the werewolves appear to be barking mad.
There’s lots of danger, Sam is in frequent danger of death, and as you might expect, a sneaky conspiracy to reveal.
This book also sees the first appearance of the “Clacks”, a fancy semaphore system, which allows messages to be relayed at high speed over long distances. This will appear in future books, in rather more detail, of course. It’s interesting to see how the Discworld is gradually developing technology in its own slightly warped way – it started out as more or less generic sort of mediaeval, with occasional Victorian overtones, but by this book, it’s beginning to warp into something quite different…
There are, as usual, lots of side gags and references, such as this little excange between Nobby Nobbs (carries documents to prove he’s human), who seems to be enjoying his undercover work which involves dressing in women’s clothes, and Angua.
It’s just that… I mane, people might…” she began. “I mean… well, you know what people call men who wear wigs and gowns, don’t you?”
“Yes miss. Lawyers, miss.”
And Sam Vimes does some pondering about why he’s being sent as an ambassador, thinking about all the more qualified people, who’d been to the right schools, and knew everyone who was anyone
They moved in circles that more or less overlapped those of their foreign hosts, and were a long way from the rather grubby circles that people like Vimes went around in every working day. They knew all the right nods and winks. What chance had he got against a tie and a crest?
All together now… Morpork Rifles, Morpork Rifles….
Leonard of Quirm is back, and not satisfied with inventing his Very-Fast-Coffee machine, has also come up with a device for cracking codes, which he calls the Engine for the Neutralising of Information by the Generation of Misamic Alphabets, which even he admits isn’t the catchiest of names. Perhaps a shorter version might be better?
Vetinari does offer some clue to his motivation
Vimes in Uberwald will be more amusing than an amorous armadillo in a bowling alley. And who else could I send? Only Vimes could go to Uberwald.
And as things go a wee bit wrong with the Watch, Fred Colon has one thought going through his head
Mister Vimes is going to go completely bursar. He’s going to go totally Librarian-poo.
Which isn’t the sort of thing you’d want to be facing…
All good fun, as always, with some more development of the Watch characters. And we even see a side of Carrot we haven’t come across before.
There will be a short break before the next book in this series of thingies. No, it’s not that I’ve developed Pratchett fatigue after twenty-four books and three months, it’s just that I’m going away for a bit, and I’d rather carry my Kindle than the four or more hardbacks I’d be likely to get through.