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Monday, September 18, 2017

First Watch by Dale Lucas (Reviewed by Michael E. Everest)

Official Author Website
Buy the book HERE

OFFICIAL BLURB: 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.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS:The Fifth Ward: First Watch’ is the action-packed debut to Dale LucasFifth Ward Series. One of Orbit’s many, and varied, debut novels to be released in 2017, the ‘First Watch’ is a genre crossover of fantasy and crime, lauded as ‘Lethal Weapon meets Lord of the Rings’. Playing on elements of ‘buddy cop’ tv shows, including the friendship between the two leads, a human newbie and a veteran-watchwarden dwarf, the story explores what the ‘boys in blue’ do when there isn’t a dark lord/lady threatening to destroy the world, in this welcomingly familiar and fun story.

THE GOOD: A nice step-change from recent releases (grimdark and epic-tomes, specifically), ‘The First Watch’ is an easy read, both in terms of structure and style. Familiar for its obvious links to police/cop tv shows (even in the way it’s episodic in its storytelling), and even more so for its familiar faces of fantasy (humans, dwarves, elves and orcs), yet different for its willingness to explore something that not a lot of other books do: what do the good guys do day-to-day?

THE BAD: On the note of ‘easy read’ and ‘episodic’, the story does suffer slightly from tension issues, in that it doesn’t really peak at any one point. Instead, chapters read like episodes of said police/tv cop shop, with their own self-contained level of tension, issues, climaxes, and where appropriate, cliffhangers. Also, maybe because all of this (the fantasy and crime elements) feels striking familiar throughout, it doesn’t do anything ‘new’.

THE UGLY TRUTH: ‘The First Watch’ is the perfect summer read, if you’re looking for something light and easy to dive into ‘by the pool’ (or in my case, between kids asking ‘come play, dad, come play!’). It’s easy to pick-up and start again from where you left off, thanks to its structure, lending itself a page-turning pace, even though it suffers from some tension-issues. I’ve never read a ‘boys (and girls) in blue’ story in fantasy before (and I’m fully aware of the many urban fantasy books out there) but I was struck by how familiar this felt to me. Between the elements of high(er) fantasy and the down-in-the-gutter lows of crime, whilst the ‘middle’ of the two was original, I didn’t feel that there was anything ‘new’ or ‘genre breaking’. Plenty of genre ‘definers’ here, but I felt that there was a missed opportunity to really take this somewhere new. That being said, this is a case of ‘do cross the streams’, as it was ‘new and exciting’ (in buzzword terms), and I highly recommend it to readers looking for something between bigger, badder readers, because you’ll still have plenty of ‘badass’ in ‘The First Watch’.

Full review: This is probably one of the trickiest reviews I’ve had to write to date. I really enjoyed this book, but I did have a few issues with it. (The original was well over 2,000 words, so I’ve had to cut it down!)

The First Watch’ does exactly what it says on the tin. ‘Lethal Weapon meets Lord of the Rings’. Police/cop tv show meets fantasy.

Lethal Weapon and Police/cop tv show? Buddy cop duo, check. Crime (petty and serious), check. Henchmen and goons, check. Fisticuffs and barroom brawls, check. ‘Clues’, check. Behind-the-scenes ‘bad guy’ plot, check.

Lord of the rings/fantasy? Elves, check. Orcs, check. Dwarves, check. Swords and sorcery, check.

We’re introduced to Rem, who through circumstance (or consequence, depending on how you look at it), joins ‘the Fifth Watch’, one-of five policing forces that watch over the wards of the city of Yenara. Partnering up with Torval, a dwarven veteran of the wardwatch, the reader finds themselves sucked into a criminal-mastermind operation, alongside Rem and Torval, as they seek out clues, suspects, and a way to bring it altogether. As you’d expect from the police/cop tv show side of it, the seemingly unrelated crimes and events are in fact part of something bigger, and it’s down to Rem and Torval to figure out what, before the criminals figure out that they’re onto them…

This is a remarkably easy and fun book to read, for a lot of reasons. The prose, although a little purple at times, is styled simple and straightforward; and the structure is set out so that the chapters are episodic. It would make for a perfect Netflix series, in which every episode focuses on a specific crime or development in the case, all the while building the bigger plot in the background, seemingly tying all the smaller crimes into the big one.

This episodic approach is great, especially if like me you're looking for something easy to get your teeth into (I'd come off the back grimdark epics and I needed something light, both in tone and tempo), but – and there's always going to be a but – the story also suffers because of this. Because each chapter is an episode, the overall tension of the novel doesn't really peak, as you’d expect. Instead, each chapter blips like a heart rate monitor.

Keeping with the comparison to the police/cop elements, the story is also somewhat let down by things that hold back police/cop shows. For example, the supporting cast for the most part fall by the wayside, especially those ‘in the Watch’.

And, don’t expect to go into this with the ‘hollywood’ version of police officers in mind. There’s no huge car chase (or in fantasy terms, horse and cart chases), no ticking-time bombs (literally or figuratively), no big shoot-outs. What there is, however, is plenty of heart and hope.

CONCLUSION: So, in closing, I have rambled on…a lot. And a lot more in the original 2,000 words+ version. But, in amongst the many, many, many tangents, I hope I have made one thing clear. I really, really enjoyed this book. It was the breath of fresh air that I needed after some heavier reading. I loved the blossoming bromance between Rem and Torval I was caught-up in the action. And above all else, I was happy to lock myself up and throw away the key to my cell just to finish this book in the early hours of the morning, because the kids kept distracting me in the days.

Oh, I hope another thing clear, too.

Buy. This. Book.


Melissa (My words and pages) said...

I've reviewed books where it was hard to say everything. You enjoy the book but there are a few structure things that don't fit for me. But well done.


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