The Fifth Elephant
March 24, 2023 10:18 AM - Subscribe

THE LOW KING IS DEAD! LONG LIVE THE LOW KING! Commander Sam Vimes, in his new role as Duke of Ankh, has been sent to lead a delegation to Überwald for the Coronation of the new Low King of the Dwarves. Coming along with him are Detritus the Troll, Cheery Littlebottom the Dwarf, and... well nobody seems to know where Angua is, so Carrot resigns his position of Captain to find her. A replica relic has been stolen and the proprietor of a condom factory has been murdered, but Fred Colon is in charge of the Watch for the time being, so everything's in good hands. It's all very political... (Discworld #24, City Watch #5.) By Terry Pratchett.

Welcome (or welcome back) to the revived Terry Pratchett / Discworld Book Club! We're currently covering the City Watch subseries (Previously: Guards! Guards!, Men at Arms, Feet of Clay, Jingo. If you wish to catch up, Guards! Guards! is the recommended place to start, here.)


His Grace, His Excellency, the Duke of Ankh, Commander Sir Samuel Vimes is tasked by Lord Vetinari to lead a delegation to Uberwald including Cheery, Detritus and Angua (who are all from Uberwald originally, where Trolls, Dwarves and Werewolves represent ethnic majorities rather than minorities.) A new Low King of the Dwarves has been chosen, and there is to be a Coronation, but the choice was divisive. A deeply conservative bloc of Dwarves support one of their own over the moderate consensus-candidate winner, and it seems that they're angling for a procedural technicality to overturn the results.

Speaking of which, the replica "Scone of Stone" has been stolen from Ankh-Morpork's Dwarven Bread Museum. It represents the 1500-year-old peerless scone upon which all Low Kings are crowned, though as a replica, it has no value in itself, and no Dwarf would actually mistake it for the real thing.

Elsewhere in the city, a factory owner has been found dead in one of his own rubber vats. Vimes considers his product line to have been a godsend for allowing the city to continue to be able to feed itself, but not everyone takes such an enlightened view.

Sergeant Angua, always poised to flee, seems to have finally up and fled on the eve of the delegation's departure. Angua has family up in Uberwald, of course (her mother, the Baroness, is an old school friend of Lady Sybill's) and Vimes expects her to catch up. Carrot, however, is concerned enough to resign from the Watch, find Gaspode the Wonder Dog, and give chase into the woods. This leaves Colon, the most senior officer remaining in the city, in charge as Acting Captain. Which goes well enough for Corporal Nobbs to officially file to create a Watchman's Guild.

Uberwald is dark, and cold, and vast. It is less a country, Carrot explains, than what you get before countries. Vampires, Werewolves and Dwarves run their pieces of it as they wish. There is no law as a Morporkian might think of it. And Humans are an afterthought at best.
posted by Navelgazer (13 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
There was so much that I liked here. As opposed to the very male-centric Jingo, this one actually features Angua, Cheery and even Sybill pretty centrally (With Sybill getting probably her biggest role since Guards! Guards!) Lots of Cheery, which I'm always going to be in favor of, though here she was more or less forced to be the representative of Dwarf social change to a group of thousands of Dwarves staunchly opposed to social change of any sort.

As alluded to above, the plot here feels eerily prescient to modern times, but I'll chalk that up to "the more things change." Frustratingly, the plot also felt less cohesive to me than prior Watch books. Like, I liked all the elements, but they didn't feel like they added up to as much. Themes like social upheaval and rapid communication (represented by the Clacks, the Howl, and the ways Sam watches information get dispersed through the Dwarf mines) are cool, as is the runner about how you are "made" and what you become, but it all just didn't crescendo for me in the way that, say, Men at Arms or Feet of Clay did.

But I still enjoyed the hell out of it. Inigo was a fun and fascinating character, gone too soon. Gavin also gone too soon. For the last several books, Pratchett seems to have made the choice to only show us Carrot from other people's perspectives, and here that means mostly seeing Carrot's scenes through the eyes of Gaspode, which is a fun choice.

Basically, a novel whose plot I'll likely largely forget sooner than the others, but which introduces a whole hell of a lot that I imagine will continue to impact the series. The Clacks is crossing Uberwald all the way to Genua. Igors are coming to Ankh-Morpork, which is now considered a Great Dwarf City (as much as the deep-downers resent the hell out of that fact.) Times aren't just changing - they have well and truly changed. And that's fun to read.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:37 AM on March 24, 2023 [4 favorites]

I had never read Pratchett before, so started working through all the books in published order during the pandemic. I just started The Fifth Element this week. So far I'm enjoying it!
posted by fimbulvetr at 1:12 PM on March 24, 2023 [2 favorites]

I keep forgetting about moments I loved in this one (which is just wall-to-wall moments I loved - I just wish it had added up to more than it did for me) and Vimes & Detritus giving Captain Tantony the greatest object lesson in "fuck your 'just following orders'" is pretty high up there for me. Detritus is another character I'll never get sick of, I think, and even though I'm not sure Pratchett was totally consistent with him here (considering how constantly the bitter cold is mentioned, I'd think he'd be at Leonard of Quirm levels of intellect through most of this one) we still get to see him be smarter (and a bit more subtly smart-assed at times) than he is in Ankh-Morpork. Bringing out the skull-bowl to make the point about how everyone was worse in the old days, catching the chandelier, "watchmen is watchmen," but most of all, when trapped in the Embassy, after getting kicked "in der rocks" by one of the guards, after being treated like shit by everyone they've met in Überwald and having to get special dispensation just to be allowed to enter the city, when Vimes orders him to shoot Tantony, he tells Vimes to shove the order up his ass. And Vimes knew that he would, because he trusts Detritus to be better than that. Simply awesome.

Also this passage, from when they're facing down the Baroness:
"O-Kay, it's all wound up," said Detritus cheerfully, hoisting the humming bow onto his shoulder. "Where should I fire it, Mr. Vimes?"

"Good Grief, not in here! This is an enclosed building!"

"Only up until I pull dis trigger, sir."
Anyway, I adore Detritus. And Cheery, once again just so happy to be herself, in a way which she herself would certainly never consider "brave," but facing hatred for it, and inspiring others with it, up to and including the new Low King.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:41 PM on March 24, 2023 [9 favorites]

The Chekhov riffs in this are howlingly funny. I will never not laugh at "Trousers were better then." (I read a lot of Chekhov as an undergrad. He's... not my favorite.) Someone must have written the fanfic where the sisters use their coach tickets to visit Ankh-Morpork.

Sybil is awesome -- as a fellow possessor of a wobbly soprano, I adore how she gets to use hers -- and I vibe with how Pratchett describes the minefield of formal-clothing-while-fat. (Yes, my Sybil cosplay ballgown is powder blue because of course it is. Took me a while to score one; it's not a fashionable color right now, apparently.) And even if Vimes tunes her out (bad Vimes! bad!), Pratchett never does, and I appreciate that so much.

Vetinari has learned from Jingo that Vimes is one helluva useful shit-stirrer. This won't be the last time the Patrician handles international intrigue by firing Vimes at it as though out of a cannon. Vimes is even more effective with the savvy Sybil at his side, and Vetinari knows that, too. Knowing guy, is Vetinari.

Angua gets at least some agency in this one, which is an improvement on Jingo, but I'd be happier if she, rather than the narrative, chose between Gavin and Carrot. Gaspode's snide mental comments about the world doing really awful things to ensure Carrot gets what he wants are right on. I wonder if this is a somewhat-subterranean riff on Boromir and Aragorn?
posted by humbug at 2:03 PM on March 24, 2023 [3 favorites]

Yeah Sybil rocks in this. I love the bit where she starts internally fuming about how Serafina never once wrote her back, leading to the bit about how a girls' school was not a good environment for girls who were big and kind, because other girls usually took "big and kind" to mean "stupid" and, worse, "deaf." She also gets a moment taken directly from Die Hard, when she realizes that her husband must still be alive because "No one but Sam could make someone that angry."
posted by Navelgazer at 2:12 PM on March 24, 2023 [6 favorites]

The Scone of Stone will never fail to crack me up.
posted by kyrademon at 3:54 PM on March 24, 2023 [3 favorites]

I'm glad to see Pratchett appearing on Fanfare. It's been way too long since I read any Discworld.
posted by JHarris at 10:35 PM on March 24, 2023 [7 favorites]

Frustratingly, the plot also felt less cohesive to me than prior Watch books.

I feel like I may reread this one just to get all the bits straight. Like, yes, the dwarf politics and how they affect the Discworld beyond Uberwald is important, but Thud! is more about that, and since it's been a while since I've read either, I tend to get those parts mixed up. I remember about the werewolves and their neo-(proto-? ur-?)fascism, but I'm a little confused about why whatever detente they've got going on with the dwarves that prohibits mining silver would apply to anyone from Ankh-Morpork. Mostly, though, I just want to reread all these books because.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:10 AM on March 25, 2023 [2 favorites]

Gaspode's snide mental comments about the world doing really awful things to ensure Carrot gets what he wants are right on. I wonder if this is a somewhat-subterranean riff on Boromir and Aragorn?

It is probably an extension of the joke about Carrot being the True King of Ankh-Morpork that Fate will deliver to his Rightful Throne at the hour of the city's Greatest Need, and Carrot being extremely uninterested in doing so.
posted by Merus at 7:20 AM on March 26, 2023

Very excited to read people’s thoughts on all of these - I did a Pratchett audiobook binge last year (having never read any before) and am hungry for opinions. Thanks for starting the threads!

Fifth Elephant might have been one of my least favourites. As mentioned above, I remember feeling a lot of “wait, the plot is doing what now?” E.g., is this the one with the Vimes x Werewolf fight? That seemed like a weird swerve. That said, comments are also reminding me about a lot of things I liked about the book, so maybe I need a re-listen.

Off to read the Jingo thread. Looking forward to Thud! (a favourite) and the Tiffany Aching series.
posted by TangoCharlie at 11:29 PM on March 26, 2023 [2 favorites]

TangoCharlie: I posted Night Watch this morning, but (after consulting with my wife, who's more of a Discworld expert than I am) I'm looping back around to catch (most of) the Industrial Revolution stuff before we get to Thud! and Snuff. So the next book will be The Truth. Just because honestly like half the story in these books is happening in the Industrial Revolution line (which also happens to be my personal favorite!) and we need to catch up now.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:07 PM on March 27, 2023 [2 favorites]

[The following comment is a little spoilery but I think we're all in here because we've read this one before!]

The way the Discworld books handle dwarf gender politics would need some tweaking if they came out now, but at the same time, they make me feel secure that Sir Terry would have been on the right side of history today in a way I simply cannot feel about any other beloved British authors who died before they had a chance to go TERF. I find Dee's particular mode of anger and gender conservatism in this book especially poignant; she's angry that Cheery gets freedom of gender expression because she thinks she's not allowed to. (When, of course, she's the one enforcing that restriction on herself as well as on others!) I'm not saying everyone with hateful ideas about gender is trying to fight something in themselves that frightens them, but I do think it's a common situation and Dee encapsulates it so precisely that it really took my breath away when I was listening to the audiobook a couple of years ago.
posted by babelfish at 12:10 PM on March 28, 2023 [5 favorites]

I feel like I may reread this one just to get all the bits straight

I initially read that as "get all the bites straight", then thought damn, am I thinking like Gaspode??
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:09 PM on March 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

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