First Watch: The Fifth Ward by Dale Lucas

It’s been a great year or two for debut fantasies, and Dale Lucas continues that trend with First Watch: The Fifth Ward. It is almost an urban fantasy in an epic fantasy setting. It takes place in Yenara, which is a sprawling city teaming with humans, orcs, and a smattering of elves and dwarves. At it’s heart, First Watch is a mystery in a fantasy setting.

Rem finds himself on the wrong side of the law awaiting punishment in one of the city’s dungeons when fortune and chance offer him a way out: become a city watchman. He’s partnered with an ill-tempered, maul-wielding dwarf named Torval. Together they patrol the streets of Yenara in the fifth ward, breaking up fights, stopping thieves and dispensing justice. When a murder falls in their lap, the two set out to catch the murderer. Following their meager clues, the two find themselves in the crosshairs of persons on both sides of the law throughout Yenara.

Yenara has a very lived-in feel to it. It has a well-defined social and legal structure and seems like a city that works. Rem and Torval are great characters and the partnership between the two is reluctant but effective. Torval shows Rem the ropes and finds that there is more to Rem than meets the eye. Rem learns what drives Torval and what makes him a good Watch officer. The two follow their case from the highest levels of power and culture in Yenara down to the lowest dens of iniquity. As you follow them, you learn more of them as individuals at the same time you are learning how Yenara operates.

The mystery at the heart of First Watch is a good one. The main characters as well as a sizable number of secondary characters are strongly developed. Consequences to events in the story are real and not always what you expect. The action is also first rate, from barroom brawls to sword fights in the street. Rem and Torval grow closer to each other as they grow closer to their prey. The climactic battle is exciting, action-packed and cathartic. Lucas tells a complete story while creating a world with lots more stories to tell. The journey is as much fun as the destination. I’m looking forward to going back to Yenara and you will be too.  Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

Description: A watchman of the Yenara City guard has gone missing. The culprit could be any of the usual suspects: drug-dealing orcs, mind-controlling elves, uncooperative mages, or humans being typical humans.

It's up to two reluctant partners -- Rem, a hungover miscreant who joins the Watch to pay off his bail, and Torval, a maul-wielding dwarf who's highly unimpressed with the untrained and weaponless Rem -- to uncover the truth and catch the murderer loose in their fair city.

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