The Fifth Ward: First Watch by Dale Lucas

July 6, 2017

Humans, orcs, mages, elves, and dwarves all jostle for success and survival in the cramped quarters of Yenara, while understaffed Watch Wardens struggle to keep its citizens in line.

Enter Rem: new to Yenara and hungover in the city dungeons with no money for bail. When offered a position with the Watch to compensate for his crimes, Rem jumps at the chance.

His new partner is less eager. Torval, a dwarf who’s handy with a maul and known for hitting first and asking questions later, is highly unimpressed with the untrained and weaponless Rem.

But when Torval’s former partner goes missing, the two must consort with the usual suspects — drug dealing orcs, mind-controlling elves, uncooperative mages, and humans being typical humans — to uncover the truth and catch a murderer loose in their fair city.

I do so enjoy a good buddy cop movie – Tango and Cash, The Heat, The Nice Guys, the list goes on and on. The premise of The Fifth Ward: First Watch by Dale Lucas couldn’t be simpler, take your favourite buddy cop movie and transpose it to a slightly different setting. Just exactly how would Riggs and Murtaugh fare if they had to square off against belligerent drunken orcs.  Oh, and let’s not forget the extra wrinkle that one of the partners happens to be a dwarf?

When we first meet Rem, he is a little adrift in his life. He has travelled to the big city in search of a change of direction but all he succeeds in doing is getting arrested for brawling while intoxicated. Fortunately, fate smiles upon him. Rather than end up serving a jail sentence he is given the chance to join the city watch.  The rules of the watch are pretty simple – don’t skim too much off the top, share your spoils with your fellow watchmen and make sure you’ve always get your partner’s back.

The only problem Rem has? His new partner, Torval, can best be described as a gruff no-nonsense dwarf. Straight talking, to the point of bluntness, Torval does not suffer fools gladly. Hard as nails, Torval is all about the direct approach when it comes to police work. Subtlety really isn’t anywhere even near his wheelhouse, never mind in it. I think it is fair to say the partnership of Rem and Torval gets off to a rocky start.  This is the thing I liked most about this novel. At the heart of First Watch, it is this burgeoning relationship between the two officers that gives the narrative all its emotional weight. Torval is the canny veteran, more than a little world-weary and suspicious of just about everyone. Rem is the opposite, keen and, on more than one occasion, a little naive when it comes to the watchman’s role in Yenara. Like all the best buddy cop movies, the new partners don’t always get on, but once they realise they can rely on one another a trust starts to develop.

First Watch acts as the ideal introduction to Rem and Torval’s world. Their investigation offers a perfect opportunity to discover the various races, colours and creeds that inhabit Yenara. The city is quite the cosmopolitan melting pot when it comes to fantasy races. Elves, orcs, dwarves, humans and more all mix with one another. It is up to the city watch to step in when necessary as, from time to time, these groups do have a tendency to butt heads. In Torval’s case, this is a literal truth. He uses head-butts as a favoured integration technique. Put it this way, there are a fair number of people wandering around town with broken noses. Nothing better than seeing a Glasgow Kiss popping up in fantasy fiction. I can only assume dwarves are genetically predisposed to being hard-headed? * Makes sense I suppose. It would be extremely handy having a hard head if there is a chance you are going to get caught in a cave-in for example.

First Watch is great fun. The characters are engaging, the plot whips along at a good pace and there is bucket loads of potential for this to develop into a rather wonderful ongoing series. A lot of the themes feel reassuring familiar, but the addition of the extra fantastical twist injects new life into a well-established formula. This is another thoroughly splendid debut from Orbit’s class of 2017. It most definitely deserves a place on your bookshelves next to Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames.

I am willing to accept that sometimes my musical recommendations to accompany books are a bit out there, but in this case, there is method to my madness. Though this novel is firmly set in the fantasy genre, there is also a very definite air of police procedural. I think the soundtrack to the movie Brooklyn’s Finest by Marcelo Zarvos perfectly captures the tone for any novel that follows Yenara’s Finest.

First Watch is published by Orbit and is available from 13th July. Well worth checking out in my opinion. The best news is that there will indeed be a sequel. The Fifth Ward: Friendly Fire is set to follow in 2018.

*and possibly Glaswegian?

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