Reviews

Review: FIRST WATCH (The Fifth Ward #1), by Dale Lucas

I received this novel from Orbit Books, in exchange for an honest review.

The theme of the more seasoned cop being teamed with a rookie he can’t initially stand is one of the main staples of detective literature, movies and tv series, but no one had so far tried to translate it into a fantasy background, and First Watch is probably the first example of this mashup, one that works well exactly thanks to its unusual setting.

Rem is a young man of noble origins who was feeling constrained by his pampered life, and therefore decided to seek adventure out in the big, unknown world: he ends up in Yenara, a colorful city rich with possibilities – and dangers.  Finding himself almost destitute, and incapable of landing any kind of work, Rem wakes up in the city’s jail after a drunken brawl: a series of bizarre circumstances leads him to his enrollment in the Wardwatch – the local version of a police force – and teamed up with veteran Torval, a grizzled dwarf Warden whose partner was recently murdered in mysterious circumstances.

Yenara is a bustling city filled with many kinds of creatures, as humans of various races, orcs, dwarves and elves coexist more or less peacefully in its streets where crime and honest business rub elbows, and despite his privileged education Rem is poorly equipped to hold his own, as testified by his imprisonment.  Even though he’s still guilty of a measure of naiveté, he’s also quick on his feet and this helps him gain some points with Torval, whose irritable demeanor hides a good, honest soul, and a person ready to grant his new partner some slack.

The two start their association by investigating the murder of Torval’s former mate, and in so doing they gather some unexpected clues concerning a series of disappearances and killings that might be related: it’s quite amusing to observe how bureaucracy and territorial politics are a constant, no matter the time period or the place.  As we are used to seeing in modern police procedurals, there are rules and limitations that hinder an investigation and sometimes force an officer of the law to go against them, ruffling a few feathers, in order to see justice done, and in this First Watch is no exception.

As the two unlikely partners move across the city in search of answers we learn much about Yenara, which appears like a crucible of races and customs that come together in a sort of free zone where everything is possible, everything is allowed (if you hold the right license…), making the inevitable parallel with modern New York – the city that more than any other one is the perfect place for a police story – quite clear.    The pace is fast and the story moves along between brawls and fights to the death, with a few sidelines of attempted murder on the two partners, rolling nicely toward the final showdown, one that however promises more adventures for the two unlikely – but by now well adjusted – partners.

If I enjoyed this story, and found myself often smiling at Rem’s and Torval’s antics, still I could not avoid finding a few details that spoiled the overall flavor of the novel.  My main point of contention is with the descriptions: the author is quite fond of adjectives, indeed, never employing just one where two – and sometimes three – can be crammed in to sketch any given person or object.  So you are not simply told that someone looks despondent, but rather that he sports a sad, mournful, desolate face; or a shady character might look hostile, aggressive and pugnacious, instead of simply truculent (the examples are mine, not directly drawn from the text, but can give a good idea of what I found).   Such… richness of detail is not necessarily a bad thing, but when it’s constantly repeated with every instance in which a description is required, it becomes distracting and ultimately slows the narrative flow down.

Something similar happens every time Rem sees someone, or witnesses an event, because in his mind he sort of makes up a back story for the action being shown, with no clues whatsoever about where it all came from: if he sees someone hurrying along with a worried face (again, the example is mine), he thinks it might be a clerk who has forgotten to run an important errand for his master, and is afraid of the consequences.  Since none of these flights of fancy are useful to the economy of the story, are not substantiated by the narrative, nor are they of any interest to the readers since they concern the story’s… extras, they are more distractions than background features, and the sheer repetition proves more bothersome than helpful.

And last, the final revelation – while interesting and bolstered by a quite epic battle between the Wardens and their quarry – is offered through lengthy explanations by the bad guy in chief, a method I always found mildly annoying, not unlike the main staple of many B-movies where the Evil Mastermind illustrates his Dastardly Plans to the captive hero before killing him – which never happens because the hero always  manages to even the odds.   Finding this narrative device here damped a little my enjoyment of the story and somehow ended it on a less than enthusiastic note.

Nevertheless, these are all personal considerations and should be taken as such: on the whole, First Watch is an entertaining read whose best feature is the relationship between two polar opposites, whose differences give origin to an engaging story that will put a smile on your face. And sometimes this is more than enough…

 

My Rating: 

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12 thoughts on “Review: FIRST WATCH (The Fifth Ward #1), by Dale Lucas

  1. I’m glad you reviewed this, I’ve been waiting for one of my friends to read it! I was very curious and almost requested it, but ultimately I’m trying to get a handle on my TBR so I decided to let it go. But it sounds like fun, so maybe another time:-)

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  2. I received this one earlier in the summer and I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but it is on the list. I’ve heard good things – not raving reviews, but it seems the response has been generally positive. I am most intrigued by the creatures like orcs and elves and dwarves; this makes it sound like your typical Tolkienesque fantasy but I suspect there’s a lot more fun to it beneath the surface 🙂

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    1. There is little or no resemblance between Tolkien’s creatures and these – well, except for Torval, maybe, because at times he did remind me of Gimli at his grumpiest 😀 – because, for example, Elves are quite creepy, and orcs somewhat pathetic. But you’re right on the fun part!

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  3. Oh, I’m sure mismatched buddy cops in fantasy must have been done before!
    But the closest I can think of is the Watch – Vimes and Colon vs successively Carrot, Angua, Detritus, Cuddy, Otto, etc. But there, they’re not directly paired up on the street (much), as Vimes is in charge.
    Ah! In ‘Thud!’, there’s a major secondary plot about Angua, the more experienced cop, being paired with Sally, the newcomer, and initially she can’t stand her.

    The other thing that really sprang to mind here was Green’s ‘Hawk and Fisher’ fantasy cop series. But that subverts the genre – the two cops, despite some bickering, are of equal seniority, and married.

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  4. I’m also sitting on the fence with this one – I need to catch up and my life has been out of control a little bit in terms of reading – I’ve not had a slump but simply a lack of time and so I’m trying to not request as much at the moment.
    This doesn’t sound like a bad read tbh but under the circumstances I’ll give it a miss I think.
    Lynn 😀

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    1. When time is limited we have to make some hard choices, indeed. But at least we can be comforted by the thought that books are patient creatures and can wait for us to find the right moment. And here’s to free time to read – the most precious commodity in the world… 🙂

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  5. As a total sucker for great cop shows AND fantasy novels, I’m very intrigued by this one! Any sort of “odd couple” duo works well for me, especially if there are antics involved. Admittedly the repetition does sound bothersome, but I’ll keep it in mind if I’m looking for a fun read. 🙂

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