on July 7, 2001
I like Sam Vimes. I REALLY like Sam Vimes. He's ex-military, hates politicians, and loathes diplomats. His idea of dealing with a diplomatic problem is to take it on head-first. He's a budding "Retief" (that's for all you Keith Laumer fans out there).
This book has a lot going for it, and it's "fat" (sorry about that) with jokes that only a government worker could identify (so if you work for the grab-a-mint, look hard!). The premise was one that was expected from developments between Carrot and Angua, because somehow Carrot had to meet the parents.
Now we know that dwarves think about other things besides "glod"-there's fat, for instance. We dig for oil and coal-they dig fat. Nice allegory, here.
For all that, there's lots here to laugh at and lots to think about. Consider the two dwarf candidates for king and their actions during the course of the book, then REALLY think about the ending. For Americans, the Stone of Scone is not common dinner conversation, so I'd suggest we Colonials look it up.
And read this book four, five, six times. You won't regret it.
Heavens to... Murgatroyd!
on July 5, 2001
It's Sam Vimes and friends to the rescue, this time in far-off Uberwald. But it's not in the same league as the previous Guards novels in the Discworld series. The villains are not at all interesting, there are a couple of meandering subplots, and there can actually be too much of Samuel Vimes in one of these books. I also don't quite get the metaphor that Pratchett is setting up with the otherwise-dopey title.
This is still very readable, with a few interesting new characters, and with some good scenes involving Cheery Littlebottom and Angua and Carrot. The quality of the writing is still very good, but could have stood a bit of editing. And Lady Sybil comes into her own as a character.
This was the Discworld novel that HarperCollins tried to use to make Pratchett a star here, but I suspect that new Discworld readers might be a bit more lost with this than with earlier books or with the novel after this one, "The Truth." If you're new to Discworld, my suggestion is to find "Men at Arms" or "Jingo" first as they are a bit less dependent on ideas introduced in other books in the series. If you're not new to Discworld, you'll buy this no matter what. You'll like a lot of it. But you might wonder, as I do, whether Pratchett is making a mistake by issuing a new book in the set every six months. A little more time to edit this and it could have been better.
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 . . .
on September 8, 2000
I was blown away by this novel.
I haven't read a lot of Pratchett, two books and a couple of short stories, but I wasn't overly impressed. Sure he's good (I particularly enjoyed his 'Troll Bridge' story) but I've always preferred Douglas Adams or Tom Holt. This book changes everything.
With 'The Fifth Elephant', Pratchett creates a comic masterpiece. He flawlessly weaves humor, both subtle and laugh-out-loud funny, into the framework of an engaging story.
City Watch overlord Sam Vimes travels into a dark and mysterious country to attend the coronation of a new Low King. He discovers that the dwarf's hallowed Stone of Scone has been stolen by unknown nefarious persons. Vimes strives, amidst interference from disingenuous vampires, bloodthirsty werewolves and loyal Igors, to find the sacred Stone.
If that's not enough, Pratchett throws in Fred Colon, Vimes temporary replacement on the Watch, panicking in his new authority. There's the traveling clerk with distinctly un-clerklike skills and the tangled love story between straight-arrow watchman Carrot and werewolf Angua.
After reading through reviews for recent Pratchett books I received the impression that they were steadily declining in quality. If so, this one is a major comeback. An excellent, excellent book. A recent magazine reviewer for F&SF calls this the best Discworld book in a long time. I'll go a step further and call this the best book I've read in months. Pratchett now holds a solid place on my must-read list.
Don't miss this one.
on September 6, 2000
(If you're new to the Discworld series, you should start with Guards! Guards! for an introduction to the characters in this book).
This latest installment in the Discworld series is Pratchett's most ambitious story yet. It chronicles the violent collision of Samuel Vimes with Dwarvish, Werewolf, and Vampire high society in a tale of political intrigue set in the Transylvanish Uberwald.
The most impressive thing here is the attention to detail. Not even in other Discworld books is the world so textured and rich, the mystery so well-thought-out, the characters so intriguing. While not devoid of Pratchett's signature silliness and wit, there's suspense to spare amid the rib-tickles.
Thematically, Pratchett's not covering new ground here: The world of politics is by necessity corrupt, belief creates truth, the common man is swept up in events beyond his control, etc. But the similarities to the other "Watch" books (Feet of Clay, Guards, Guards!, Jingo) are superficial. Pratchett is not content to cover the same ground with the same characters; he takes them in surprising directions and tests their mettle.
All in all, a thoroughly entertaining book and worthwhile chapter in the Discworld saga.
on August 4, 2000
In "The Fifth Elephant", Terry Pratchett returns to his "Guards of Ankh-Morpork" storyline, last seen in "Feet of Clay", "Men at Arms" and "Guards, Guards". This time, Sam Vimes--Commander of the Watch and the Duke of Ankh-Morpork--is off to neighboring Uberwald to attend the coronation of the Low King. Uberwald, as fans will remember from "Carpe Jugulum", is inhabited by vampires and werewolves. Of course, nothing goes as planned. The Scone of Stone--the traditional "throne" of the Low King--has been stolen, the dwarves are divided over the choice of Low King, and the Watch is on strike.
One of Pratchett's strengths is to make you laugh even as he makes you think. This has been evident in his last several books, especially "Small Gods", and I'm glad he's keeping up the good work. In this book, the questions are many: how do you deal with a werewolf who won't take stop trying to kill you? Should people from different worlds pursue a relationship? Mr. Pratchett even touches on traditional male-female roles (or the lack thereof among dwarves) and the power of faith. Humor is good, but humor that waxes lightly philosophical is even better.
on April 25, 2000
It turns out that Angua's brother isn't very nice, even for an undead. You know it is inevitable from the time you first meet him - doing one-handed handstand pushups - that Sir Samuel is on a collision course with one Bad Dog.
It's also true that while you can take Duke Vimes out of Ankh Morpork, you can't take the cop out of Sam Vimes, even by making him the ambassador to Uberwald. It's a little hard to relate the Sam Vimes of "Guards, Guards!" to the man here. Sam Vimes seems infected with Clint Eastwood, but the cynicism is still there.
More than any recent Terry Pratchett story, this one is a novel, with the comic bits fewer and the plot intensity ratcheted up to a new level. The Game isn't even slightly funny, and dwarves are much more complicated than the axe-swinging, quaffing half wits (sorry) we've seen in other books. There are amusing moments, but for the first time I think Terry has a plot carrying the story instead of gags strung together by a plot. If you compare it with the thin shards of a plot in "Color of Magic" and "Light Fantastic," you can see how far he has come.
I think some of the negative reviews - except for the accurate comments on the lamentably incompetent proofreading - are a result of his shift in focus.
This is a very good book. Not the funniest. Not the cleverest. But it's the closest thing there is likely to be to a "mainstream" Discworld (™) novel. I enjoyed it very much.
And when Sam Vimes heads to the plaza to confront Angua's brother, armed only with the leavings from the raided clacks tower, puffing on his cigar; well, you can practically see the dirty serape swirling in the wind.
on April 11, 2000
There's talk of Pratchett making a comeback, but I hadn't been aware he'd left. Either way, the Fifth Elephant is a darn good Discworld novel, and though maybe not the best in the series, has some of Pratchett's best work.
This is definitely Pratchett at his best - humor, cultural speculation, political though, and interesting metaphors. He juggles more characters with more depth than ever with Carrot, Anguna, Vimes, Sybil, Cheery, and Detritus, and introduces some interesting new characters (plus a herd of Igors).
The plot is a bit convoluted, and some of the red herrings smell after awhile, but then again its essentially a Watch novel, and those get pretty complicated. It has some of his more darker and realistic writing, which actually enhances the storyline - comedy, drama, and observation are more seamlessly integrated. I can't really call Fifth Elephant a comedy, as Pratchett's style has integrated them into something I can only call "Humorously-themed observational drama."
Is he back? Pratchett never left - just like the Fifth Elephant and certain baked good, you have to know what to look for.
on April 7, 2000
I am a diehard Pratchett fan, but even I hesitated to fork over the money for the new Fifth Elephant. I had been disappointed by his last several offerings, even Carpe Jugulum, which everyone said was his comeback book. Recently, it seems that his books have suffered from a lack of all that made Moving Pictures and the books of its time the best in the series. And I'm a big fan of the Guards storyline, and the last Guards book had been Jingo (don't even talk to me about it). Then I read The Fifth Elephant. And I experienced true joy. This is a Pratchett book in the classic style- a darkish story with an impressive set of points to make (satirical and otherwise). At the same time, it is also the funniest one he's done in the last several years, full of humor from the extremely un-complex to the kind you have to stare at for a few moments to understand (and then then laugh hysterically.) I have in particular to mention the excellent characterization of such recurring characters as Vimes, Lady Sybil and Carrot. When you compare Elephant to their debut storyline, Guards! Guards!, you can see that they're all far more subtle now, and that all of them have grown very convincingly as well. Vimes is my favorite Pratchett character of all time, and in addition to other changes, has been mysteriously reborn as a man of action. I don't know why he's suddenly leaping tall buildings in a single bound like this, but... The person above is correct about the irritationg typesetting mistakes, and this day-glo cover probably could light up in the dark, but by all means buy this book and ignore both of 'em. It was easy for me.
on March 27, 2000
I've adored Terry Pratchett for years. I've pressed him on practically anyone I can convince to hold still for five minutes, and I did like this one. Sam Vimes has evolved nicely during each appearance, and Pratchett can be both pointed and convulsively funny at the same time. The Fifth Elephant romps along, a giggle guaranteed every five minutes or so, and some fun at the expense of "romantic" werewolves and vampires. If you don't like people staring at you on public transportation, don't read this during your commute.
The problem I had was the really awful proofreading job. The same thing happened with Carpe Jugulum, and it bothered me a lot. Over the years I've made myself tolerant of homonyms and tense problems. I've even come to bear the abominable use of apostrophes. I'll let the occasional I/me and its/it's error slide, though I tend to grit my teeth while doing so. But this was awful; sentences begun with obvious typos, mis-spelling that should have been caught by a first pass with a spell-checker and so on.
I only gave The Fifth Elephant three stars because the errors distracted me and got on my nerves. This doesn't mean that I don't like Pratchett, it means that I feel authors and their publishers should be reproved for that kind of thing.