Fade to Black review

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Fade to Black is the debut Fantasy novel of Francis Knight. The book was released on February 26th 2013 and is the debut of a trilogy named after the main character, Rojan Dizon. The second book is titled Before the Fall (June 2013 release) and the final novel is Last to Rise (November 2013).
It’s a city built upwards, not across—where streets are built upon streets, buildings upon buildings. A city that the Ministry rules from the sunlit summit, and where the forsaken lurk in the darkness of Under. 
Rojan Dizon doesn’t mind staying in the shadows, because he’s got things to hide. Things like being a pain-mage, with the forbidden power to draw magic from pain. But he can’t hide for ever. 
Because when Rojan stumbles upon the secrets lurking in the depths of the Pit, the fate of Mahala will depend on him using his magic. And unlucky for Rojan—this is going to hurt.
Fade to Black is the tale of Rojan Dizon, a selfish womanizer pain mage turned bounty hunter/PI in a huge vertical city where his services are more than welcomed even if his kind is on the brink of extinction. The setting is the evolution of a medieval era castle turned into an industrial metropolis running through the use of a mysteriously new clean energy replacing the synth. A dark sword and sorcery mystery in a Sci-ish world.

The story is presented with a first person perspective, directly from the mind of Dizon. As usual with this choice of narrative, much stands on the shoulder of the man and his perceptions and introspection.  In that aspect, even if the macho, grumpy and disillusioned private eye may not draw much sympathy at first, I slowly grew on him. However, to bring him on the good side of the reader and create a heroic figure, the background story that is slowly exposed and his personal interest in the quest he gets involved in are somewhat typical. The twist comes at a later stage of his gloomy journey.

I felt that the transformation of the man throughout his search is stretched a bit too much. This result is achieved with the help of another repudiated pain mage, Pasha, and his partner Jake, a successful arena fighter in the Pit. Jake is the right kind of protagonist to confound Rojan but the way his personality switches when she's around isn't completely in accordance with what the man's portrays. In any case, she present unique traits,  an appealing backstory and creates a love interest for both men that spice things up.

Aside from the characters, the city of Mahala comes into play. The idea of the layers upon layers of sub districts standing on a closed section, the Pit, where the inhabitants are the one who suffered the most from the previous source of energy, the Synth,  is creative.  Since the city is relying solely on its industries and the energy source it requires, when that source becomes problematic, every option is considered. One of these options is what drive the plot forward, shrouded in delusion contingency plans from the Ministry.

From the moment Dizon's path cross over to the secluded Pit, he seems to find help too easily.  Hopefully, even with some help, his situation is dire and he has to make difficult choices and get out of trouble more often than not. While the ending isn't the best example of these choices, the perspective created by it should benefit the protagonist in the next books.

One element of Knight's writing became a source of frustration for me, the blackouts of Rojan. Choosing to make him blackout and come back to the conscious world when key part of the story should be explained isn't an interesting idea. There is always some retrospective to put together what happened but since it involves pain magic and that the narrator himself is left in the dark, it felt like an easy way out for the author.

On the other hand, pain magic is clearly a great concept.  I usually prefer when magic has limits and when the consequences of using it are concrete and substantial. Pain magic is the perfect example of it. The exploration of this system is limited but the ending open up possibilities for the next books. The author should focus even more on this idea.

Fade to Black is a fast read, a nice entertainment that won't blow out your mind but with an atmospheric setting built with care and characters of interest.  The story of Rojan Dizon has nice moments, action a plenty and cool concepts but the main, and more often than not simple, thread isn't strong enough to leave an impression of complete accomplishment. As a debut, I was interested enough to keep an eye out for the rest of the series.

Technically, I love the cover for the Orbit books edition of the novel, the vertigo effect is well done and reused for the other two books! The paperback edition of the books stand at 384 pages and you can read and extract of Chapter one here. No maps are included but anyway, I'm not sure what a map of a vertical city would look like...

Fade to Black review rating :

World building
Magic system 

Overall (not an average)


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