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Fade to Black (A Rojan Dizon Novel) by Francis Knight
Review by Drew Bittner
Orbit Trade Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780316217682
Date: 26 February 2013 List Price $14.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Rojan Dizon spends most of his life out of the sun. That's because his city, Mahala, is built deep into a cleft in the mountains, such that only the uppermost levels get direct sunlight. At the very bottom--in Under--there is no natural light at all.

And Under is where Rojan must take his illegal talents, on a search that will rattle the city to its very foundations.

In Fade to Black, Francis Knight introduces Rojan, his twilit city, and the powers of pain-magery that are forbidden in Mahala. Rojan is something of a bounty hunter, seeking out and finding missing people wherever they might hide. At the start of the story, he tracks down a very clever girl who's hidden out in the tainted depths of the city. Although he is compelled to honor his agreement to find her, it's soon clear that he is not above offering help where it's most needed.

Then he is found by his brother Perak, whom he abandoned years ago. Perak's daughter Amarie is missing, taken by a cadre of faceless kidnappers who have plied their trade on many. What makes Perak an unusual case is that he's now a very important man, second only to the city's ruler, and the mastermind behind Glow, which provides light and power to the city in place of the toxic synth.

Rojan pursues tentative leads deep into the city's lost deeps, said to be the home of abominations and horrors. Instead, he finds a civilization unto itself, where secrets and mysteries abound. Even with the help of his friend, the dwarf Dendal, and his many connections above and below, Rojan must rely on his wits, audacity and his powers--which require pain (his own or someone else's) to use.

Fortunately (or not) for Rojan, there's a lot of pain ahead in tracking down his lost niece, uncovering the city's greatest mystery, and persevering to do the right thing, even as the fate of many thousands hinges on his decisions. Can an outlaw be trusted to save a city? That may be the biggest gamble in Mahala's history...and it's last.

Knight creates an intriguing, complex and thoroughly realized world in this novel, envisioning a location that feels fantastic and yet grounded at the same time. Rojan is a good reflection of this setting, being a person who lives and works in darkness with only splinters of light marking how dark his path has become. He is somewhat bitter and cynical, but it is apparent that these are coping mechanisms; he feels guilt over leaving his brother shortly after their mother's death, and wants more than anything to make it right between them.

The mystery at the heart of the story is well realized also, depending on less abstract qualities such as good and evil and more on how to keep a city alive and prosperous--and what prices that prosperity demands.

As Rojan works his way ever downward, and then back up into the light, Knight throws the book at him almost literally; he must become what he has so often hunted, an irony that is not lost on him, while navigating his way through treacherous circumstances. He gets help along the way, and does find answers to most of his questions, but the journey is not an easy one.

Fade to Black will definitely appeal to readers who like authors such as Alan Campbell (Scar Night) or China Mieville (Perdido Street Station); it is very much similar, being works I'd consider "dark weird fantasy" rather than high fantasy. This branch of the literary tree is more akin to Clark Ashton Smith and Jack Vance than J.R.R. Tolkien, for sure. And it's a pleasure to see new ground broken so well.

Recommended.

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