Fade to Black by Francis Knight


“’We all have walls, don’t we? You have your cynicism, her and her ice-queen act. A wall to keep everyone away, outside, so they won’t see the fear.’”

I entered this book expecting a novel in the same vein as Daniel Polansky’s Low Town. This was mildly different. More of a better the Dresden Files meets Sandman Slim.

What I instead was offered was a place of towering vertigo, where shadows dance in the heroes, where love is as twisted as the magic that run in people’s veins. This is a dark story, full of men popping joints out of sockets and cutting their hands in the name of a cause; this is what makes the story great, what makes the idea of “physical” pain magic both admiring and grotesque.

“’Afraid of it perhaps? I think so, but a wise man bewares what can destroy him, and that care will save him.’”

Rojan is a man who excels at finding people, no less because of his magic in that field. But he is a man unwilling to delve deeper into the “black.” For once you enter your own black, the place where your greatest fear is gone, you basically go crazy. Some can hold back the insanity, but I believe all will worm their way deeper into the abyss as time progresses.

“I was the black and the black was me.”

It was this unnerving horror, and need to use this horror, that pulled me along for the ride.

Namely because the plot is nothing special. It’s a story of a kidnapping. Rojan’s niece is kidnapped for reasons unknown, and he must go to the bottom of this city that is built up, not across, to find her. Twists aren’t major revelations, like how we know Pasha is a pain mage, but is wary of them in the beginning. The latter is nothing strange, but the first isn’t really made exciting. One minute he seems like a normal human being, the next he’s reading people’s minds.

Characterization, though, was strong. Noir novels are known for their different characters. This was no exception. Rojan, the MC, is the usual cynic, having seen his mother die a slow death over a decade from the tainted energy of the synth. Add in a sprinkle of atheism, and you have a scared man, a man fearful of using his magic. Maybe it was from having watched his partner, Dendal, run deeper into the black that was good. Below ground we meet Pasha. As stated before, he is a mage, troubled and protective of the one thing he can’t have: Jake.

She is what I would like to call the person both men are fighting for. She’s an “ice-queen,” a woman with an outer shell hard on first sight, but brittle from closer inspection. She’s driven to find the missing girls that Azama, the Big Bad, kidnaps for his own nefarious, pain magic-y reasons. You can probably see as to why.

But Pasha has a history with her. And Rojan has a history of womanizing. You can see where this leads, Rojan believing this is “the woman.”

The part where he kisses her and throws things downhill, angered me to no end.

But the writing was where I struggled. Flickers of greatness pop out in certain scenes, but for the most part, the prose is jarring. That’s not to say the pace was amazing, shuffling me along in no time.

The one thing I felt this novel was missing was length. Fade to Black was one book I was really anticipating for the year.

Instead of a 400 or so page novel jammed with great world-building (which she has) and a moving story (which she almost has) dotted with memorable characters (which she will have in later installments; I’m sure), I was presented with a 340 page thriller of sorts. It was just that I wanted more substance, more meat on the bones. Not more internal monologues. Please no. But just more of something.

As the sub-genre of Fantasy Noir continues to bare its popular head, I feel confident that authors like Francis Knight are pushing the light (or shadows) forward, not back. It is the great atmosphere, dark and dank, that makes this story one to contend with. But more importantly, it is the city that of Mahala, the one built up, street on top of street, that really adds a sprinkling of amazingness to this story.

Rating: 7/10

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