Rem, a human male in his early- to mid-20s, wakes up in a jail cell, barely able to recall the drunken antics of the previous night. Given that he can’t afford to buy himself out of whatever it was he did the night before, he impulsively volunteers to join the city watch. Within a few short hours, Rem is out on his first patrol in Yenara, a city he barely knows. Rem is clever and good with a sword, and he has no trouble learning on the job. Good thing, too, because he’s thrown into a fairly big case that first day: his new partner’s old partner is discovered dead.
Rem being new to the job, and new to Yenara, provides the perfect frame for Lucas to broadly sketch out the world of The Fifth Ward. Rem’s dwarf partner Torval introduces him, and us, to the various species co-existing in the city, as well as the “rules” of the world. The city has five wards, each policed by its own watch. While the city has its own laws, non-human species are subject to discipline from a leader in their own group: orcs are disciplined by the orc leader, elves by the elf leader, etc. Everyone is territorial: ward captains jealously guard their territories, ethnic leaders insist on their rights as arbiters for their people. It’s a delicate balance, and rife with opportunities for conflict.
Lucas does a lovely job of setting up the world for an ongoing series. Not only is the political situation of the city complex enough to accommodate a number of stories, Rem and Torval themselves have layers which will be interesting to explore. Torval is a single father with a well-nursed prejudice against orcs. Rem is running from his life of privilege, looking to make his own way in the world for reasons we do not yet know. I look forward to seeing where Lucas takes the series.
First Watch is a well-written adventure that flows moves easily without getting overly intense or graphic. The characters are likable, and it’s not grim in any way. It’s clearly a fantasy novel (the orcs and dwarfs give it away), the fantasy elements are the background. Basically, you’re not going to get bogged down in trying to figure out whether the world makes any kind of sense.
I requested this book on NetGalley because the words “orc”, “dwarf”, and “watch” conjured images of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. That’s perhaps a bit of an unfair burden to put onto Lucas’s work, but I can easily see Commander Vimes & crew sharing the streets with Sgt. Colon and Captain Angua. There’s nothing of the political or social satire here, but the rest of it will feel familiar.
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.