The Barnes & Noble Review
Although many American readers don't realize this, Terry Pratchett is a genuine cultural phenomenon in his native England. His comic fantasy novels most of which are set on his signature planet of Discworld regularly dominate British bestseller lists, and estimates indicate that Pratchett accounts for fully 1 percent of all annual fiction sales in the United Kingdom. Thus far, Pratchett's American sales have been less spectacular, but that situation could change and quickly. HarperCollins has recently launched an aggressive campaign to raise Pratchett's profile on this side of the Atlantic. The centerpiece of that campaign is his engaging, extremely funny new novel, The Fifth Elephant.
The Fifth Elephant is the 24th Discworld novel in 16 years. Discworld, for those new to the series, is a flat, disc-shaped planet on which both magic and lunacy flourish. According to legend, it is carried through space on the backs of four gargantuan elephants, who are carried, in turn, by a giant turtle named Great A'tuin. (There is also, as the title implies, a fifth elephant, whose reputed role in the creation of Discworld is explained in detail within these pages.) Discworld comprises four continents, the largest of which the (Unnamed) Continent is the site of the planet's principal city, the unruly metropolis of Ankh-Morpork. On Discworld, human beings coexist, though not always peacefully, with a varied, vividly described assortment of "ethnic minorities," among them imps, trolls, gnomes, zombies, gargoyles,dwarves,werewolves, and vampires. The latter three species are prominently featured in Pratchett's latest.
As a general rule, the Discworld novels fall into four distinct categories. Several, such as The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, recount the exploits of the cowardly, incompetent wizard Rincewind. Others (Wyrd Sisters, Equal Rites) focus on Granny Weatherwax and her coven of witches. Other novels, such as Mort and Reaper Man, feature the anthropomorphic figure of Death, a tall, skeletal figure who always speaks in capital letters and makes frequent guest appearances throughout the series. The fourth subdivision, whose earlier titles include Feet of Clay and Men at Arms, centers on Samuel Vimes, irascible commander of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch. The Fifth Elephant is the latest Vimes adventure, and one of the best.
In this one, Vimes is sent on a delicate diplomatic mission to Uberwald, a wild region roughly analogous to the balkanized societies of Eastern Europe. It is also Discworld's primary source of gold, iron and, yes, fat. (Fat mines, believe it or not, are a thriving industry in Uberwald.) Vimes is assigned to represent Ankh-Morpork at the coronation of the newly chosen Low King of the dwarves. What should be a straightforward mission is complicated immensely by a number of factors: internal strife within the dwarf community, the murder of an Ankh-Morpork condom manufacturer, the theft of a talismanic symbol of dwarf royalty called the Throne of Scone, the sporadic intervention of a teetotaling vampire named Lady Margolotta, and the violent maneuverings of a deranged werewolf named Wolfgang, who has his own agenda and his own reasons for encouraging dissension among the Uberwald dwarves. Before the story's many complications resolve themselves (and it would spoil the novel to reveal those complications in too much detail), Vimes finds himself arrested for attempted regicide and is forced to flee across Pratchett's version of the frozen Russian steppes, with a howling pack of werewolves in hot pursuit. Only on Discworld could diplomacy result in such an epic catalog of disasters.
In the course of this convoluted tale, Pratchett resurrects a gallery of familiar Discworld inhabitants, including Lord Havelock Vetinari, the patrician ruler of Ankh-Morpork; Sergeant Angua, a werewolf/policewoman with a complicated personal history; Death, who always makes an appearance at inopportune moments; the aristocratic and newly pregnant Lady Sybil Vimes; the dead but ambulatory Constable Shoe; and Gaspode, Discworld's only talking dog. With characteristic assurance, Pratchett drives his large, eccentric cast through an equally eccentric narrative that manages, remarkably, to function successfully as both satire and adventure story. The Fifth Elephant, like the best of Pratchett's fiction, is a comedy with teeth, a novel in which the sublime alternates with the ridiculous, in which action and farce are skillfully integrated into a seamless narrative whole.
Readers new to Pratchett's fiction can safely jump in anywhere, and The Fifth Elephant makes as effective an entry point as any. Despite their wealth of internal references and their endless interconnections, the Discworld novels are independent creations, and each one can be read and enjoyed without prior knowledge of the other 23. The series as a whole is addictive, inventive, and consistently funny, and it is recommended, without reservation, to anyone with a taste for imaginative fiction infused and enlivened by a first-rate comic sensibility.
Other writers are now mining the rich seam of comic fantasy that Pratchett first unearthed, but what keeps Pratchett on top is--quite literally--the way he tells them.
Science Fiction Weekly
Terry Pratchett isn't the only major fantasy writer who churns out a book a year in a popular ongoing series, but he may be the only one consistently fighting off authorial entropy. Rather than degenerating into contractual-obligation clones, the Discworld books are actually improving year by year.
San Francisco Chronicle
Unadulterated fun. Pratchett parodies everything in sight.
The art of satire is a difficult one, and Pratchett truly is a master of the form....If you haven't made the acquaintance of Terry Pratchett, by all means remedy the situation immediately. For longtime fans, you're in for a treat. Highly recommended.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Acclaimed British author Pratchett continues to distinguish himself from his colleagues with clever plot lines and genuinely likable characters in this first-rate addition to his long-running Discworld fantasy series (Carpe Jugulum, etc.). This time around, the inhabitants of Discworld's Ankh-Morpork have turned their attentions in the direction of Uberwald--a country rich in valuable minerals and high-quality fat deposits. (The fifth elephant, it seems, left all these when he or she crashed and burned in Uberwald at the beginning of time.) Ankh-Morpork's policeman Sam Vimes has been sent there to represent his people at a coronation--and to find the recently stolen, rock-hard and symbolically important (at least to the Dwarf population) Scone of Stone. As he tells Vimes's story (and surrounding ones), Pratchett cheerfully takes readers on an exuberant tale of mystery and invention, including the efforts of a clique of neo-Nazi werewolves to destabilize Uberwald. Along the way, he skewers everything from monarchy to fascism, as well as communism and capitalism, oil wealth and ethnic identities, Russian plays, immigration, condoms and evangelical Christianity--in short, most everything worth talking about. Not as perfect as Pratchett's Hogfather but in the same class, this novel is a heavyweight of lightness. 200,000 ad/promo; 7-city author tour. (Apr.) FYI: At the end of The Fifth Elephant is appended a "handy travel guide" to the "World of Terry Pratchett," including a character guide to the Discworld novels and a Discworld crossword puzzle. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
School Library Journal
YA-A book that's part mystery, part action-adventure, and all funny. Someone has stolen the original Scone of Stone from a dwarf vault in berwald and its replica. The new Low King of the dwarves cannot be crowned without it, and the current candidate for the throne is more moderate than certain factions would like. The fifth elephant of the title is the mythical beast responsible for providing the mountains of berwald with their rich deposits of gold, silver, iron and fat-the real reason that dwarven politics matter in Ankh-Morpork. While this is not the best story to begin an exploration of the "Discworld" (HarperCollins), fans of the series will enjoy it. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Read an Excerpt
They say the world is flat and supported on the back of four elephants who themselves stand on the back of a giant turtle.
They say that the elephants, being such huge beasts, have bones of rock and iron, and nerves of gold for better conductivity over long distances.
They say that the fifth elephant came screaming and trumpeting through the atmosphere of the young world all those years ago and landed hard enough to split continents and raise mountains.
No one actually saw it land, which raised the interesting philosophical point: When millions of tons of angry elephant come spinning through the sky, but there is no one to hear it, does it-philosophically speaking-make a noise?
And if there was no one to see it hit, did it actually hit?
In other words, wasn't it just a story for children, to explain away some interesting natural occurrences?
As for the dwarfs, whose legend it is, and who mine a lot deeper than other people, they say that there is a grain of truth in it.
On a clear day, from the right vantage point on the Ramtops, a watcher could see a very long way across the plains, If it was high rock and iron in their dead form, as they are now, but living rock and iron. The dwarfs have quite an inventive mythology about minerals, summer, they could count the columns of dust as the ox trains plodded on at a top speed of two miles an hour, each two pulling a train of two wagons carrying four tons each. Things took a long time to get anywhere, but when they did, there was certainly a lot of them.
To the cities of the Circle Sea they carried raw material, and sometimes people who were off to seektheir fortune and a fistful of diamonds.
To the mountains they brought manufactured goods, rare things from across the oceans, and people who had found wisdom and a few scars.
There was usually a day's traveling between each convoy. They turned the landscape into an unrolled time machine. On a clear day, you could see last Tuesday.
Heliographs twinkled in the distant air as the columns flashed messages back and forth about bandit presence, cargoes and the best place to get double egg, treble chips and a steak that overhung the plate all around.
Lots of people traveled on the carts. It was cheap, it beat walking, and you got there eventually.
Some people traveled for free.
The driver of one wagon was having problems with his team. They were skittish. He'd expect this in the mountains, where all sorts of wild creatures might regard the oxen as a traveling meal. Here there was nothing more dangerous that cabbages, wasn't there?
Behind him, down in a narrow space between the loads of cut lumber, something slept. It was just another day in Ankh-Morpork ...
Sergeant Colon balanced on a shaky ladder at one end of the Brass Bridge, one of the city's busiest thoroughfares. He clung by one hand to the tall pole with the box on top of it, and with the other he held a homemade picture book up to the slot in the front of the box.
"And this is another sort of cart," he said. "Got it?"
"'S," said a very small voice from within the box.
"O-kay," said Colon, apparently satisfied. He dropped the book and pointed down the length of the bridge.
"Now, you see those two markers what has been painted across the cobbles?"
"And they mean ... ?"
"If-a-cart-g's-tween-dem-in-less'na-minute-'s-goin-too-fas'," the little voice parroted.
"Well done. And then you ... ?"
"Taking care to show ... ?"
"And if it's nighttime you ... ?"
"Well done, Rodney. And one of us will come along every day and collect your pictures. Got everything you want?"
"What's that, Sergeant?"
Colon looked down at the very large, brown upturned face, and smiled.
"Afternoon, All," he said, climbing ponderously down the ladder. "What you're looking at, Mister Jolson, is the modern Watch for the new millenienienum ... num."
"'S a bit big, Fred," said All Jolson, looking at it critically. "I've seen lots of smaller ones."
"Watch as in City Watch, All."
"Anyone goes too fast around here and Lord Vetinari'll be looking at his picture next morning. The iconographs do not lie, All."
"Right, Fred. 'Cos they're too stupid."
"His Lordship's got fed up with carts speeding over the bridge, see, and asked us to do something about it. I'm Head of Traffic now, you know."
"Is that good, Fred?"
"I should just think so!" said Sergeant Colon expansively. "It's up to me to keep the, er, arteries of the city from clogging up, leadin' to a complete breakdown of commerce and ruination for us all. Most vital job there is, you could say."
"And it's just you doing it, is it?"