Monday, February 5, 2018

Review: First Watch by Dale Lucas

Title: First Watch
Author: Dale Lucas
Pages: 379
ISBN: 9780356509365
Series: The Fifth Ward #1
Publisher: Orbit
Published: 11 July 2017
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher


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In the cramped quarters of the city of Yenara, humans, orcs, mages, elves and dwarves all jostle for success and survival, while understaffed watch wardens struggle to keep the citizens in line. Enter Rem. New to the city, he wakes bruised and hungover in the dungeons of the fifth ward. With no money for bail - and seeing no other way out of his cell - Rem jumps at the chance to join the Watch. Torval, his new partner - 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 learn to work together to uncover the truth and catch a murderer loose in their fair city.

Imagine a darker, less humorous version of Terry Pratchett's City Watch and you'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect of First Watch by Dale Lucas. All the familiar fantasy races are present in this buddy cop fantasy where the unlikely duo of Rem (a human newbie) and Torval (a grizzled dwarven Wardwatch veteran) are tasked to uphold law and order in the city of Yenara.

Yenara is a veritable melting pot of races and cultures and with that comes a seedy underbelly filled with crime, vice and corruption. Dale Lucas explores what most fantasy novels simply gloss over - how law enforcement would function in a fantasy world. Being a member of the Wardwatch is a dangerous, thankless and violent job and even among the various Wards in the city animosity reigns. The Wardwatch aren't paragons of virtue, but they get the job done even if it means having to resort to torture to find the answers

Our main protagonists, Rem and Torval, are captivating characters in their own right. Rem is a runaway who came to Yenara to forge his own destiny away from the expectations of his father. When he finds himself on the wrong side of the law, he jumps at the chance to join the Wardwatch when an unexpected job opportunity arises. His reluctant partner, Torval, is a gruff, world-weary dwarven Wardwatch veteran who lives by his own code. Torval has seen all the horrors the world has to offer and behind his gruff exterior hides a tragic past. Torval initially resents his new partner, but with time Rem earns his respect, even if it's reluctantly given.

"We're watchwardens, boy. It might not mean much to many, but that means something to me. I only keep my share, I always watch my partner's back, and I never break my word. That's the source of all my honor, such as it is. That's my code. Without it, I'm nothing." (p 130)

As Torval and Rem are tasked to investigate a murder they uncover something far larger at play. Bringing the culprits to book puts not only themselves in danger, but could also threaten the fragile peace that exists between the races.

The pacing in First Watch can be somewhat uneven. It takes quite some time for things to really kick off, but as all the threads come together the narrative races to a violent, satisfying conclusion. The growth in Torval and Rem's relationship is what truly drives the story forward, and it is heart-warming to see how the bond between them solidifies. They both came to Yenara to reinvent themselves even if it meant going against social and cultural expectations. In each other they find a bond stronger than family. A home of their own making.

The Verdict:
First Watch is a solid buddy cop police procedural featuring an unlikely pair taking on the seedy criminal underbelly of a city filled with vice and corruption. The story is an entertaining read and the fantasy setting brings something new to the familiar buddy cop trope. While I thoroughly enjoyed reading First Watch it lacks that certain nuance and depth which could have elevated it to something truly special. That being said I'm keen to see more of Torval and Rem's adventures. I hope we get to see more of Queydon, the elf watchwarden, in the next installment. She would make an amazing addition to their team while adding some much needed female representation.

The Rating: 6/10 (Good)

Thanks to Charlene from Jonathan Ball Publishers for the review copy.

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