Fade to Black: An Ordinary Urban Fantasy Debut

Fade to Black, is a 2013 Orbit debut by Francis Knight, first in a trilogy that features Rojan Dizon, a "Pain-Mage". Interestingly, Orbit has a back-to-back publishing schedule with this trilogy with the second in the series, Before the Fall is already out in the market while the third is poised to hit the stands in Jan 2014.

Urban fantasy has never been my cup of cake. Sexy smart eighteen-year old college kids who never fit in to normal societies and then one day discover that they are in fact the last of a race and are invested with powers unimaginable and turn into hot hunky(male) or smoking hot (female) vampires toting shiny black guns caught in a war between angels and werewolves and in the process also discover that their secret crush is a member of the opposite gang ( take your pick: Faerie, Angel, Werewolf, Vampire). Does he or she save the world and also get to happily-ever-after with their heart-sworns?  < aaaaaarrrrghhhh >

Happy to let you know that Fade to Black steers clear away of this stereotype and brings to the table a host of ideas - new or inspired is up for debate - all headed by a snarky self obsessed smooth talking first person narrative anti-hero who tries hard to be likeable despite his myriad flaws.

Rojan is your typical bounty-hunter anti-hero who loathes responsibilities, loves his cash, women and booze and firmly believes in stuff like men aren't made for monogamy and never cross the Ministry. He lives in the city of Mahala,  a strange place where the city grows upwards instead of horizontally  streets upon streets, buildings upon buildings at different levels. He lives somewhere between the Sky, the topmost level populated by the rich and politically savvy and the Pits, where the good-for-nothings rot.And he gets by with the odd job of retrieving lost or kidnapped people and not meddling into the affairs of others.

He craves this existence in this world for a reason: A world where magic is banned and he is a pain-mage: magic triggered off by pain. Until it becomes personal and his niece is kidnapped - his brother's desperate plea to get her back that he cannot turn down.

It's a fun book. No!! I mean it, really. It's a quick read and presents an intriguing magic system that you cannot help but discover. Magic from pain.

You've seen Rojan before. Too much of a smooth-talker for his own good and always getting into trouble that he grudgingly takes up for the sake of others. rough around the edges and not able to keep a woman and yet always falling for the wrong ones. and most importantly, one who doesn't know his own potential.
And yet, I didn't feel put off and it was easy enough being inside his head - Francis does a good job of making him accessible, interesting and well...unpredictable to a certain extent.

It just seems that Francis, trying to be inside a chauvinistic male's head, tries too hard and this effort kinda falls flat on its face. Her prose, while inspired enough, does smack of being irregular and the initial intrigue soon gives away and starts to drag and feel leaden. especially the middle parts of the book when Rozan our dauntless PI goes down into the pits to retrace and find out whereabouts of his niece and discovers a global conspiracy. < Face-Palm>

The best spark of imagination is the city of Mahala. While not original,  < The City by Stella Gemmell, City's son by Tom Pollock, A City of Dreams And Nightmares by Ian Whates > a shining star of the book is the squalid city that rises up to different levels and each level is demarcated by the different types of the social strata that inhabits that level. the lurid details of the Pits and the dreary desultory denizens of the lowest levels are well defined and written.
In terms of characterization, it's Rojan Dizon all the way and we see him evolve from being that good-for-nothing self obsessed snarky bastard into someone who is willing to shoulder and take responsibility for his actions (The power of Louve!). We see this miles before the end of the book but it's been done rather nicely. The side characters are too flat and single-dimension. I saw hopes for Jake, the fighter woman whose destiny is closely entwined with that of Rozan but she never gets fleshed out like she deserves.

All in all, a paint-by-numbers debut that ticks all those things that should  go into a good book but fades with time. Three-stars for a fast read.


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