Before the Fall by Francis Knight

“No-Hope-Shitty: the name says it all really.”

Francis Knight’s debut earlier last year, Fade to Black, was one of those heavily anticipated novels for me. Besides labeling it as Fantasy Noir and boasting a painful magic system, the cover and general pleasantness of the author is what really hyped the novel for me. I found it leaving much to be desired, but the dark, grimy city left a layer of hope for future installments. Unfortunately, Before the Fall, the second in Francis Knight’s Pain Mage trilogy, is a big nosedive.

I believe the biggest problem with it is not only the unsympathetic nature of the narrator, but the way Knight presents Rojan and his thoughts, or better said, the repetition of his negativity. If his quips had been presented with a little more originality or even a little more diversity given on a range of topics, I might have enjoyed the experience a little more. It’s evident that Knight has plotted out a stronger story than the previous one. But Rojan hammers on religion, class warfare, racism, and the black. Mostly religion and the black. (Hint: 90%)

Yes, the religion and cynicism rants got on my nerves quickly, if only because we never went a page without having one pop up. It was annoying. Not only that, but every scene is overwritten with internal monologues that fill the pages. For me, a person who loves a good internal debate and description, this was NOT the way to do it.

Maybe it was from the narrative voice that wasn’t as compelling as it should’ve been. Or perhaps all of the telling, not showing. Or the run-ons. Or the lack of a map. Or the repetition. Okay, I might just be grasping at straws here, but there was a problem with this second novel. And I believe it might’ve been the potential that was squandered.

Dialogue can be great, when it’s not delving into loads of lazy profanity. The plot is hidden with some strong twists that caught me off guard, but that’s because the majority are predictable. The occasional turn of phrase is nice, but ruined when used as a transition to another scene when a break would’ve sufficed. It’s in the execution that Knight failed, I think, seeing as she has a remarkable world (that very much needs either a map or more world-building), and a simply amazing magic system. Truly, the latter is the series’s hallmark. If there was any other reason I kept on going (besides having the 3rd), it was because whenever Rojan needs to dwell deep into the darkness, Knight can write it well. The verbosity is rewarded in these passages, in every squeamish remark.

My question is: Where was this throughout the rest of the book?

I’m not sure.

In summary, if Knight had taken the first and last sentence of each paragraph, and had only those for this book, we would have had a breathtaking second installment. Instead, we have beauty that teeters down into ridiculousness.

“The inside of the mortuary was colder than Namrat’s heart, so that our breath formed clouds in front of us and I began to worry for those more important parts of me, that shrunk, scaredy cat, into my trousers.”

I think if Rojan had received more character development that just his hatred for organized religion, his restatements of cynicism, and his pervasive love for thinking with his genitals, then the voice might’ve flowed more. But what we have is choppy negativity that does nothing, but bore the reader.

At the end of the day, Before the Fall is a predictable, overwritten book with no tension and barely any character development for the entire cast, save till the end. It’s slow and borderline insulting with all the repetition (of which I can’t repeat enough), and especially with the many, many typos and run-ons from a big name publisher.

Call me crazy, but Pasha should’ve been the protagonist. At least he was tolerable with some semblance of an arc.

Rating: 5.5/10

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