Fade To Black by Francis Knight
|Book Name:||Fade To Black|
|Formatt:||Paperback / eBook|
|Release Date:||February 26, 2013|
In this dystopian urban fantasy, the vertical city of Mahala is as much a character as the men and women that pace its walkways or scramble up and down its ladders from the dizzying heights of the Clouds and the Top of the World to Boundary and the sealed Pit below, which isn’t quite as empty as it should be. Born in a valley, the city has stretched up to the sky, a vital trade link between bickering nations. It is trade that has kept Mahala alive, trade and magic. But now magic – derived from pain – is outlawed, and the sinister Ministry runs the city with iron fists.
Rojan Dizon doesn’t have much time for the Ministry. A small time bounty-hunter and pain-mage hiding his talents from the regime, he’s content to drift along in luckless relationships, drinking in divey bars and keeping his head down. Until his niece is kidnapped, and he has to descend into the Pit to rescue her. There he finds a vibrant city cut off from the upper world, where someone has been kidnapping girls for their own sinister purpose, one that could have consequences for the whole of Mahala.
As I mentioned about, the city is as much a character in the novel as the people that live in it, or under it. It’s to Francis Knight’s credit that she makes the whole concept of the vertical city not only plausible, but entirely logical. And her human characters are just as complex. They are multi-faceted individuals who come with their own side order of emotional baggage; cynical Rojan conceals a soft heart, damaged Jake wields swords like armour, Pasha hides his own wounds as he tends to Jake’s.
The story takes us into the lower realms of the city, into the vibrant, surprising, heart of the Pit, where Rojan is forced to come to terms with his own powers, and his own past, and where the men who have made themselves Gods in the sky descend to wield their cruel power. It’s dark down there, sometimes a shade too dark, and some readers may find themselves uncomfortable with the nature of the blackness hinted at within the walls of the ancient fortress.
I had my doubts about a magic system based on pain, thinking it could tip over into the angsty trope of “suffering for art, man!” But Knight handles a potentially difficult subject with both sensitivity and humour. Considering the subject matter, there are also a few sections of Fade to Black that are unexpectedly funny, a gleeful light in the darkness.
A sequel, Before The Fall, is due later this year, and it’s hinted that some of the minor characters who make an appearance in Fade To Black will have a role to play in the next book. It would be good to explore the city still further, go with Rojan up to the heights where the power lies and corruption is thickest.
A very strong debut from a novelist of vision who has built an intriguing sandbox to play in, with plenty of twists, turns and surprising moments.