THE FIFTH ELEPHANT
by Terry Pratchett
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In The Tough Guide to Fantasyland (1996), Diana Wynne Jones notes that once a map exists, "you are going to have to visit every single place on this Map." The first appearance of Überwald (sic) in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series seems to have been on The Discworld Mapp (1995). In Carpe Jugulum (1998), Pratchett brought the vampires of Uberwald to Lancre. In this year's installment of the Discworld Saga, The Fifth Elephant, Pratchett brings Sam Vimes and other members of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch to Uberwald.
Pratchett has frequently used the "fish out of water" plot to good effect, beginning with Twoflower in The Colour of Magic (1983) and continuing with the witches in Witches Abroad (1991). Samuel Vimes, himself, has figured in this sort of plot in Jingo (1997). Unfortunately, The Fifth Elephant is not as strong a novel as some of those earlier books. Much of the book is set up for the action, which seems to be entirely clustered in the final third of the novel.
There are several plotlines running through the book. Samuel Vimes's diplomatic mission to Uberwald for the coronation of the Dwarven Low King, Carrot's search for the missing Angua, and the running of the City Watch without Vimes or Carrot in command. Unfortunately, the last plotline, one of the most interesting features of the novel, is dealt with in only a cursory manner, although the scene in which Colon finds himself in the Patrician's audience chamber is one of the more humorous scenes in the novel.
The Fifth Elephant is more character driven than anything else. The legalistic mind of Samuel Vimes must come to terms with the lore-based society of Uberwald. Carrot faces his long-held dictum that personal is not the same as important. Lady Sybil is given a chance to grow as a character more than she has since she married Vimes in Men at Arms.
All this said, it must also be pointed out that even "bad" Terry Pratchett is better than most of the books which are being published and certainly more humorous. While The Fifth Elephant does not rank at the highest levels of the Discworld series with such books as Small Gods, Reaper Man, Men at Arms, or Equal Rites, it certainly ranks far better than Moving Pictures, Hogfather or The Light Fantastic.