So this is diplomacy. It’s like lying, only to a better class of people.
More than most of the Guards series (or Discworld in general), The Fifth Elephant is driven by a strong plot rather than leaning on characters and jokes. It’s actually a nice change from many of the other books, although I do like both styles.
This time around, The Patrician is sending Vimes and his wife off as ambassadors to Uberwald–land of Dwarves, werewolves, and vampires. In an overall reading, this would be just after Carpe Jugulum, but since I’m reading series by series, it’s been a while. Uberwald is still interesting though. And a nice contrast to the Ankh-Morpork of the last few books.
Mostly, it’s a book about Vimes–who continues to be a wonderful combination of grumpy and overly straight forward; just the sort of ‘ambassador’ that makes the more traditional ambassadors nervous. We also get some interesting scenes with Angua going back to her werewolf family roots (in Uberwald) and Carrot dealing with the fallout of that.
There are a few interesting ideas in the book, mostly related to the nature of long lived things / traditions:
“You did something because it had always been done, and the explanation was, ‘But we’ve always done it this way.’ A million dead people can’t have been wrong, can they?”
And a more Discworld way of looking at the Ship of Theseus.
“This, milord, is my family’s axe. We have owned it for almost nine hundred years, see. Of course, sometimes it needed a new blade. And sometimes it has required a new handle, new designs on the metalwork, a little refreshing of the ornamentation … but is this not the nine hundred-year-old axe of my family? And because it has changed gently over time, it is still a pretty good axe, y’know. Pretty good.”
It’s definitely a different sort of book than the early Discworld books–much more serious and darker–and we’re drawing to the end of the subseries (3 left: Night Watch, Thud!, and Snuff). I’m curious where it will go next.