First Watch. Book Review

FIRST WATCH by Dale Lucas
Orbit, p/b, 416pp, £8.99
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins

Rem comes to in a cell, somewhat hungover, not at all sure how he got there. In fact, the last thing he remembers is winning a dice game. Whatever prison this is, it is not a pleasant one. After witnessing a very efficient punishment being dished out by the warders, Rem decides he would rather be the one dishing it out than be on the receiving end. Welcome to the Fifth Ward.

A job like that wouldn’t be right without a partner, so Rem is partnered with a dwarf. A very intimidating, potentially hostile dwarf who already has a partner – albeit a currently missing one – and who clearly does not relish the idea of a new human sidekick. As Rem faces his first orc confrontation as a watchman, the pieces of the night before, the gambling, and the woman he began to fall in love with start to come back to him.

In First Watch dwarves, elves and orcs are re-housed in the current fantasy market in a part whodunit-and-what-happened, part grimdark revenge story, part protagonist of noble birth fleeing his upbringing and name and part classic sword, axe and sorcery. If this is one of many The Fifth Ward stories to come then they will be a welcome addition to the bookshelf.

The story is told from Rem’s point of view but it is Torval, his dwarf partner, who steals the show, bouncing from bawdy humour, sheer brute force and unstoppable determination one minute to tender moments of sincere sentimentality the next. Both characters are easy to like. Couple that with an easy-going, well-paced narrative and you have a winner.