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Book Review: The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett

Vimes does diplomacy his way. Then again, if Vetinari wanted anything else than policing in Uberwald, he should have sent someone else. The Fifth Elephant is a bit different from other Watch novels even when this is also about kings and crimes, but this is about Uberwald and not Ankh-Morpork. Also, about Dwarfs, werewolves, vampires, and rest of the lot who are not your common thieves from back home, making Vimes have to navigate the newness of it all.

This is not my favorite Discworld novel, and I’m not sure why. It gives an excellent glimpse of Angua’s background and deepens her and Carrot’s relationship. It also adds Uberwald better to the Discworld map and introduces Igors properly. All of this should make me love the book more. It doesn’t. Something is missing, and I don’t know what. There is even a serious undertone I love about Pratchett’s writing; this time, it is about how people react to societal change with modern ideas that start from the cities and move on to the countryside. (And how politicians and those with self-serving motives use this change and fear to their advantage. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?) People, this time Dwarfs, are struggling to come into the terms of sex, other needs beyond mining, fall of religiosity and customs,  and the usual changes which happen when moving into a bigger city with the liberty to be who you are and being able to find like-minded company. I enjoyed this part with additional information about Dwarf folk-lore.

Now, as I think about the book, what is broken for me is not the usual messiness with the plot you can also find Pratchett’s earlier books and in here, but the characters feel odd and unlike themselves — starting from Fred Colon and his troubles at the city. All of it makes me like him less. How about Sybil then? I understand why there are changes to her behavior; it comes clear at the end, and I don’t want to spoil it, but still, I feel like she could be different here. Sybil is a strong woman and has quirks that make her lovable. All of those are gone except at the end. Then to get into Vimes, he is too lost with his new position and the surroundings, making his usual intuitions go haywire and making him less appealing. Luckily Angua is Angua, Carrot Carrot, and you get a better idea who Detritus and Corporal Littlebottom are. And you cannot really change Gaspode or Nobby Nobbs, who stay true to their nature. I’m not against change and growth, but in The Fifth Elephant (love the intentional or unintentional reference to Fifth Element), something is off. As if the characters had taken a step back, reverting to one-sided when they already had come multidimensional.

If you are already into Discworld and have read other books, then read this. Despite all my complaints, The Fifth Elephant is enjoyable. Igors are fantastic. Vampire AA meetings even more. The hint of a relationship between Vetinari and Lady Margolotta makes my imagination go wild. And of course, Clacks! This is the first Discworld book to introduce the communication system and can’t wait to reread Going Postal. But to those who might consider this as their first book into Discworld, maybe choose another title if your heart isn’t set to read this one. The Fifth Elephant is a good book, but not the best Discworld novel.

Thank you for reading and have a lovely day!

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