Knocking People Out: Easier In Fiction Than In Real Life

Knocking People Out In Fiction


Blurring The Lines

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Age of Assassins by RJ Barker

Age of Assassins



The Fade by Chris Wooding

The Fade by Chris Wooding
Book Name: The Fade
Author: Chris Wooding
Publisher(s): Gollancz
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / eBook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: February 1, 2009

The opportunity for creative worldbuilding is one of the many (many, many, many) things that makes fantasy the bestest genre in the known ‘verse. Discovering a new world, especially a new world that is successfully brought to life by sparkly-awesome location descriptions and original yet relatable characters, might be one of the greatest pleasures there is (I don’t get out much). That said, enter, The Fade.

The Fade is difficult to summarise without spoilers because I’m bursting to talk about how great the ending is, but I will rein it in just for you. Chris Wooding has created a masterpiece of a world, a subterranean wonderland where whole new species, cultures and social hierarchies battle it out in the darkness of a cave network beneath the surface of the planet Callespa. Wooding’s creation is a harsh world whose two fierce suns force all but the hardiest of creatures to live their entire lives deep beneath the planet’s crust, far out of reach of their destructive rays. The majority of society has adapted to living in expansive caves containing cities and landscapes aglow with technology and magic. Among the sub-surface dwelling cultures are two races at war.

The narrative of Chris Wooding’s relatively short standalone lies with Orna, a deadly fighter, spy and assassin who, along with her husband and son, is bound to the service of the Caracassa, a clan within the nation of Eskara, for her entire life. With a comfortable home, loving family, and an abundance of skill at her job, Orna tries not to dwell too much on her lack of freedom, but being a bondswoman means the Clan always comes first. Having to repeatedly forsake her marriage vows, spend an extensive amount of time away from home, and watch the people she loves forced to fight at the front line of a seemingly endless war against the neighbouring Gurta people, Orna resents her imprisoned lifestyle more than she knows. Then the unthinkable happens.

During the routine of a bloodthirsty mission battling at the front lines, Orna notices that something is wrong. The Gurta seem to have predicted the movements of the Eskarans and are preparing for a mass onslaught. Too late, Orna realises that the Eskaran soldiers have been led into a trap and races to find her husband before the slaughter begins. She manages to reach him, just before he is killed and she is captured by the enemy.

Awaking in the furnaces of a Gurtan working prison, Orna can comprehend nothing but her loss. After a period of doubt and suffering, her fierce will, a desire to find her son and a need to exact revenge eventually bring her back to herself and she vows to escape or die trying.

The story itself is a surprisingly intimate one, considering the world it takes place in; with relatively minimal effect on the fate of mankind apart from the raging war that continuously claims victims on both sides. For all its careful creation, the planet of Callespa doesn’t become a main character, overriding the structure of the story with its impressive creativity or dictating the narrative (much) with its alarming natural menace. Instead, it serves as an impressively crafted backdrop to a story that could really be told anywhere. In setting up this intricate world for such a tightly focused story Wooding has left himself a lot of scope to return and show us what else is going on. Even if he doesn’t, I still think it’s wonderful that he has spent time sculpting this setting without using it as a ploy to fill another 300 pages with needless exposition.

Instead, Wooding uses his magic words to thoroughly explore the character of Orna and make the story and setting completely believable from her experiences and the interactions she has with the world around her. A working mother of this type is something we rarely see in this genre but the idea of trying to have it all is certainly something we can relate to in our real lives. A strong and capable woman who struggles to face her vulnerabilities and weaknesses but embraces the idea of love and family life, Orna is an intensely likeable character, not least because she is really cool and doesn’t take any crap. The Fade is written in first person narrative, which works well, giving us insight into the character as well as providing ample explanation of the underground world. While the meticulous explanations of subterranean living might not be entirely realistic of Orna were she telling her story to anyone on her planet, I found them easy to overlook because of the extra details she notices that an ordinary citizen might miss. Assassiny spy-people should be extra observant after all.

Reminiscent of Scott Lynch’s work, The Fade really isn’t far from perfection in terms of combining sublime worldbuilding with a tight pacey narrative, and every aspect of the book carries the air of experimentation. The structure is interesting, with 40 chapters counting down to the climax, alternating to allow for flashbacks or Orna’s youth. The book is mostly in present tense – excluding the flashbacks – which isn’t something I’m usually thrilled by, but it did effectively create unbearable tension at certain points.

There is a magic system in The Fade but it is left largely up to the imagination because it has little to do with Orna’s life. Cthonomancers are mentioned several times as important magic-wielding individuals, but their abilities seem to work in similar ways to advanced technology. By focusing on the story and remaining sketchy on these details, while leaving the reader in no doubt that he knows exactly how every aspect of his world works, Wooding has created a novel that almost transcends genres, if it doesn’t sound too ridiculous to say so. The depth of his work is astounding and something all writers should aspire to.


One Comment

  1. Louise says:

    I haven’t read The Fade, but Chris Wooding is one of my favorite fantasy authors. I think it’s probably because of the traits mentioned here — he choose to create vast and seemingly complex worlds and yet remains focused on a core set of characters. It means that they never feel lost in a world that could easily take over the narrative.

    Great review, it seems I will be picking up The Fade. 🙂

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