“Fade to Black” by Francis Knight

fade to blackI’ve had Fade to Black sitting around for a while, and I jumped straight to reading it after I finished Aurora (which was great, but somewhat bleak) because I wanted to read something fun.

Rojan Dizon is a bounty hunter in the city-state of Mahala living a quiet life in the shadows and trying to stay out of trouble as much as possible. He’s also a pain mage, and his magic has been outlawed by the Ministry that controls the city. His life is going great when his long-lost brother asks him to find his missing daughter, and he can’t bring himself to refuse, despite knowing that he’s messing with the Ministry. And of course, he ends up finding much more than a missing girl.

I enjoyed Fade to Black a lot. Rojan Dizon is pretty much your standard Mat Cauthon template – roguish, out for himself, ultimately moral. He does become more heroic over the course of the book, but it’s believable – it’s because he cares for specific people (his niece, the people that help him find her) and because he’s a fairly nice guy, which is established early on. Also, his blatant womanizing  was pretty funny, and just like Mat, when he actually likes someone, he’s clueless.

The relationships (I don’t mean romance) in this book are complex and made the characters seem realistic. Rojan and his brother Perak are estranged, but they still respect and love each other. Rojan worries about his business partner Dendal’s use of magic, and it’s clear that they have a solid friendship. And I enjoyed the complicated relationship that he develops with his contacts in the Pit, Jake and Pasha – there’s a little bit of a love triangle, but it’s mostly just messy.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I really enjoy city-states in fantasy; I’m not really sure why – maybe because books set in city-states tend to make them more atmospheric, and also focus on the economy and structure of how everything works. Anyway, Mahala was a great setting, nestled in a mountain pass, with no choice but to build up to expand, and with only precarious walkways to navigate. I’m not sure about how that would work in practice, but I assume that since this world has magic, that would help somehow. It certainly makes for a very picturesque image. I also enjoyed the somewhat industrial setting, although electricity is just being discovered and magic powers the factories. I’d like to read more about how that works; luckily there are two more books. The magic system is neat, too – the author takes the general rule of “magic has to have a cost” almost literally, since magic is fuelled by pain.

I was a little bit confused by the writing style of the book – it’s first person, and I think it’s supposed to indicate that Rojan is writing this long after the events have happened, but that took a while to get used to, and in the beginning, I thought there were just a bunch of inconsistencies. One example is when Rojan reunites with Perak (not really spoilers, it happens in the first couple of chapters), before meeting him that it was no surprise that of course he’d end up in Alchemical Research (which is part of his overall narration), but then when Perak explains his job, he’s truly shocked (but that was his reaction in that moment). There are more things like that, but once I figured the style out, everything made sense.

My other complaint is that things wrapped up a little too neatly at the end. I was hoping that the case that Rojan is working on at the beginning of the book was just a look at his everyday life before he got sucked into something crazy – just establishing his character – but it turned out to be plot-relevant. I also did not like the identity of the main antagonist, he ended up conveniently wrapping up not one but two other major threads in the story, although given Rojan’s character of avoiding responsibility, there would’ve been no other way to set him up for the next two books without those threads being resolved.

There’s more stuff I haven’t talked about, like the way Fade to Black approaches religion (both organized religion and belief), but words are deserting me today. I’ll just say – I’m pretty excited to read the next two books and see what happens to Mahala. Maybe we’ll even see Outside!

Fade to Black by Francis Knight (Rojan Dizon, #1)
Orbit Books, 2013 | Buy the book
I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher or author.

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