Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett

I got this book as a Christmas present, it filled an inexplicable gap in my otherwise complete Discworld collection. This also allowed me to keep reading all of the ‘Vimes’ books as I have been.

This is the first book I have read in 2008. I finished it at three minutes past midnight. Now that’s a way to spend New Year’s!

Pratchett uses Ankh-Morpork, and indeed all his Discworld books, to provide his own unique commentary on real world issues. The chief focus of The Fifth Elephant is diplomacy.

Vimes is sent to a far-off country whose hitherto chief relationship with Ankh-Morpork has been the source of its immigrants. Vimes notes that the country, Uberwald, is like a giant suet that everyone has just noticed on the table, and now the rush is on to get the biggest slice onto our plate.

Diplomacy comes naturally to Vimes, with its combination of threats, implied and actual, suiting his own character. Uberwald is not a country per se, being ruled by whichever local warlord currently has the upper hand. Vimes must contend with a conspiracy that reaches all the way back to Ankh-Morpork.

Pratchett also takes some subtle digs at the British monarchy, as the theft of the Scone of Stone threatens the future of dwarvish monarchy. For those not paying attention, the Stone of Scone is a small rock above which every British monarch, except the current one, has been crowned. It was stolen by Scottish nationalists in the 1950s and never recovered.

British in-jokes aside, this book is a good read by itself, but you’ll really benefit from having read the other Guards books first, as character development is ongoing. So, since you didn’t ask, here’s the reading order: Guards Guards, Men at Arms, Feet of Clay, Jingo, The Fifth Elephant, Night Watch, Thud.

Sadly, Pratchett has recently been diagnosed with the form of Altzheimer’s. I have no idea if there will be any more Discworld books to come.

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