Fifth Ward: Friendly Fire by Dale Lucas

I thoroughly enjoyed the first novel in this trilogy.  Despite the high bar, Friendly Fire, did not disappoint.  Much like the first novel, the world building and characters are superb.  That’s not to  short change the overall quality of the writing and the dialogue, which are also top notch.  The biggest difference between the two novels is that Friendly Fire was far more steeped in dwarven lore than its predecessor and magic was more tied to this novel.  There was good character development as well.  Rem moved toward being able to reveal his past, and Torval’s character was explored in far greater depth.


I like the use of the Kothrum in this novel, a demonic entity in dwarven lore that is called upon to seek vengeance that Rem and Torval eventually have to take down.  The other thing that was particularly compelling was the racial turbulence between the dwarves and the human stonemasons.  What I liked is that the author wasn’t heavy handed.  There was no side that was clearly in the right or clearly in the wrong.  Instead, they each have good people and bad people, and they each have their own points they made that were valid.  That’s the way it should work in the real world but seldomly seems to.  Even the villains in this novel generally weren’t real villains with a couple of exceptions.


This was a fun novel.  I highly recommend it and look forward to completing the trilogy.

10 Questions with Dale Lucas

  1. I found the first novel in your Fifth Ward series to be a refreshing departure from a typical epic fantasy novel. What made you decide to go in that direction?


Frustration, mostly (he says with a chuckle). When I first set out to write fantasy, it was in an epic vein, but I could never find the right human story inside all the epic-ness to justify the sprawling size of the tale I wanted to tell. In subsequent (and still unpublished) books, I tried melding fantasy elements with real history. I was really proud of those books, but they didn’t seem to land with editors (though one came very, very close at a small press publisher).


I landed on the premise for The Fifth Ward almost by accident, because I had cop-buddy movies on the brain and was basically cycling through all sorts of interesting settings, and there it was: a cop-buddy story in a fantasy city. It didn’t even instantly strike me as ‘the one’ but after a couple weeks, I realized the idea wouldn’t leave me alone, so I ran with it.

I was just trying to come up with something that excited me, that had some real publication potential, and that wouldn’t allow me to get sucked down a deep rabbit hole of research and world-building (which I tend to do). That simple notion of a buddy-cop story in a semi-familiar, pre-industrial fantasy world just seemed like a real untapped well in terms of fun storytelling possibilities at a real, human scale. As it turned out, it was.


  1. Who has been your biggest influence as a writer?

Just based upon prevalence, Stephen King. My entire adolescent reading life was dominated by King’s work, and right up until about the age of 20 or so, I would’ve called him my favorite writer without hesitation. I eventually branched out and collected a number of other favorites and notable influences, but King was there first and laid the groundwork, so he wins.


  1. Why did you decide to pair a human and a dwarf as pseudo police officers as your two main protagonists in your Fifth Ward series?

I knew right away I wanted to use the classic fantasy races simply so I could comment upon everyone’s assumptions about those races. Knowing that, it was just a matter of trying out the pairings in my head. For some reason, human/dwarf just stuck. Before that time, I’d never cared much for dwarves in fantasy, but through Torval, I’ve come to really love them. I think some of the work I did in Friendly Fire (the second book) about dwarven culture and Torval’s relationship to it is some of my best character work, ever.


  1. Who is your favorite writer?


That’s nearly impossible to answer, there are so many. I already mentioned Stephen King, who still looms large, but in recent years, horror writers like Laird Barron and Gemma Files are my superstars. Tim Powers influenced me heavily when I discovered and devoured his work. I still aspire to the level of artistry and grounded, human insight on display in Ursula K. LeGuin’s work. For crime fiction, I love hardcore, pessimistic noir guys like Jim Thompson and James Ellroy. In more literary moods, Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O’Connor and Joseph Conrad.


See? What is that, 10 ‘favorites’?


  1. Magic was not at the forefront of Fifth Ward: First Watch. Why was that more in the background of the novel?


That was just the kind of story I sought to tell. I wanted magic present in their world, and I brainstormed a number of stories where it would play a more integral role (see Book 2), but ultimately, I just felt like I was after something more grounded and relatable.


  1. What current writing projects are you working on?


Last year, I wrote a Warhammer: Age of Sigmar tie-in novel called Realm-Lords that will be out later this year, and I’ve just commenced work on another novel for them that’ll probably be out next year.


I also just finished the first draft of a new, original horror novel set in the 1920s involving gangsters, apocalyptic cultists and a vampire. That one’s still pretty shaggy, though, so it needs work before it’ll get out in the world. Hopefully, by next spring, that’ll be squared away and ready for shopping to publishers.


  1. Did you start off with the intention of making Fifth Ward a trilogy or did it involve into one?


I saw it as an open-ended series, where each book could more or less stand alone—aside from internal continuity involving the characters’ own evolutions. Orbit contracted me for three. As yet, there are no plans for more, but I’d certainly love to return to that world. My hope, when starting, was to follow Rem and Torval through a couple decades of friendship and trials, so we’ve still got a long way to go to fulfill that.


  1. What type of scenes do you most enjoy writing?


Probably scenes of suspense or weirdness: where a character either realizes something’s not right and has to figure out what it is, or where we’re ramping up to a big confrontation. I think the mechanics of writing scenes of that sort are so specific and fine-tuned, I love the challenge inherent in them.


Also, scenes where the humanity of the characters really shines through: moments where lovers bare their hearts, moments where one friend admits a sin or a shameful incident to another. People being vulnerable and revealing things. I know that’s not what people really sign on for with a fun, fasty-paced fantasy read, but I think it’s the presence of those moments, between the action and wonder, that really give a story its heart and soul.


  1. What is your best quality as a writer?


Three things: stubborn dedication to my work, consistent output, and a desire to constantly improve. Whatever else I may accomplish or not, I’m pretty proud of those three.


  1. If Hollywood was making a film adaptation of The Fifth Ward, and the director asked you to cast the roles of Rem and Torval, who would you choose?

When I was writing, it was Eddie Redmayne and Ray Winstone in my head. Ray Winstone just has the coolest face, the coolest, craggy voice, and the most wonderful look of combined mischief and menace in those beady eyes of his, and the ability to be both dangerous and endearing. He’s Torval, through and through. Since that was five or six years ago, though, I might now say someone like Richard Madden (Robb Stark on Game of Thrones) for Rem, and maybe Dave Baustista as Torval. Baustista’s got a lot of heart and soul behind his enormous physique, not to mention great comic timing, so I think it’d be awesome to see him play a character that’s only four and half feet tall.

Fifth Ward: First Watch by Dale Lucas

This novel was so different from any epic fantasy novel I have ever read.  It was refreshing to read a novel that featured orcs, dwarves, and elves but didn’t involve some massive quest with the fate of the world at stake.  That’s the blueprint of the overwhelming majority of epic fantasy, and although that’s enjoyable to read, this offered something unique and interesting.  The premise follows Rem and Torval, two members of what amounts to the police force of the city.  They stumble into a major crime spree involving important members of their city.


Beyond the premise, the execution of this novel was top notch.  The writing was strong with some modernization and grittiness in the language that reflected the hardboiled crime story involved.  The characterization was top notch, both with Rem and Torval as well as some of the side characters.  I read a great many thrillers, and the plot unfolded in a well thought out manner with suspense but without plot holes and gaps in logic.  I really don’t even have anything to quibble about.  The length was about right for the story, and there was not a massive bloated backstory or unnecessary writing that often plagues the genre.


This is a novel I recommend and look forward to reading the remaining novels in the series.

The Gathering Storm by Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan

I had really soured on the most recent books in The Wheel of Time series.  The books had gotten long winded.  They meandered aimlessly and seem to be leading nowhere.  There were a million characters that I could no longer keep track of, let alone care about.  I strongly considered giving up on the series even though I was so far into it, but I had heard to stick with it because the series got better after Brandon Sanderson took over, and I definitely concur with that sentiment.  Sanderson has given this series the shot in the arm that it badly needed.


Although the novel was long, and there were storylines that seemed to be going nowhere, the writing was vastly improved, and, by the end of the novel, those wandering storylines came together more cohesively.  The Egwene storyline was an example of one that had been really dragging but came together strongly at the end of this book and was a real highlight.  I also liked the villain turn of the Daughter of the Nine Moons.  The writing was tighter.  The plot and progression was more focused.


There were still some issues with the novel.  The biggest problem that I see is that Rand Al’Thor has become a completely unlikeable character.  He started off the series as a character that you could root for, but now it’s like, yeah I suppose the world needs him to defeat the Dark One in the final battle, but he has become a complete bore.  He barely even feels like a real person any more.  I am hoping in the last couple of novels they fix his character, because it’s hard to truly enjoy a novel when you don’t like the main protagonist.


Overall, I enjoyed this novel and remain optimistic for the final two.

Beyond the Ice Limit by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

I wanted to like this novel because I found the concept to be interesting, but there were too many hurdles to leap over to actually find it enjoyable.  There were problems with the characterization and the writing, which weren’t particularly well done, but the biggest problem was believability.  And the lack of believability had nothing to do with the concept of an alien tree-like creature being launched somewhere from deep space in an impenetrable pod before landing on the sea floor, growing into a structure that was miles long and was going to then destroy the planet.  And yes, that does sound a bit far-fetched but I was willing to go with that.  It was everything else that was a problem.


For starters, the team was able to get a nuclear weapon placed on a ship with the intent to destroy this alien life form without any government in the world noticing them.  Things like the obtaining of nuclear weapons typically doesn’t go unnoticed by government agencies.  Not to mention this type of voyage would have possibly cost into the hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars, but funding and resources seemed to be no problem for these folks.  The science in the novel was preposterous and turned me off because it was almost silly at times.  The way the characters acted on the crew did not come off as realistic, but what really lost me was the ending.


Without spoiling the ending, to kill the alien creature and have the characters actually survived would have been a one in a trillion shot, and that’s being generous.  Yet, somehow they threaded the needle so that everybody could live happily ever after.  Except that it wasn’t remotely satisfying since it was so preposterous.  For me, this novel is a pass.  I think you could do much better.