Fade to Black by Francis Knight
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Fade to Black by Francis Knight
This is really a great debut novel. There is a lot to like about it and there is a bit even to detest. It's written in a stylish Noir that reminds me of the old black and white mysteries with the gumshoes. Sort of a Mystic Maltese Falcon. The main character is Rojan Dizon a pain Mage who really isn't all that fond of pain so he's tried not to do too much magic. There's more to it than that though because too much pain magic can lead to a very dark place that often is impossible for the Mage to find his way out of. Rojan has lived in a dark world in a black existence trying to avoid another darkness that makes everything around him seem pale in comparison. He uses his magic to locate people and that's how the reader is introduced to him when an unsavory client hires him to find and bring back his teen age daughter Lise who has run away. Lise has some tricks up her sleeve that have made his job particularly difficult and he's had to resort to a device manufactured by a dwarf colleague. The device amplifies his magic which mean he has to still endure pain but a bit less of it to get good result. Rojan is not a particularly likeable character but what he does in his interaction with Lise tells us that there is someone with just a bit more heart behind the veneer that covers him in the first part of the book.
As the story unfolds we begin to find the reason that Rojan lives on the edge using his magic illegally and defying the Ministry. There was a golden age when Pain Mages controlled things and were powerful. They were trained to properly use the magic. Then the Ministry stepped in and began to ban the use of pain magic. Things were controlled and operated using Synth, but Synth turned out to be a very bad thing and now they have something less powerful running things called Glow. And now they have a dark dystopic environment that is still poisoned by the Synth and there are too many mysteries behind what makes the Glow operate.
This dystopic world is similar in many way to the one in Thea von Harbou's Metropolis. And there are a number of other similarities to the two stories. Rojan has a family a brother though his mother has died from the effects of synth and his father has run off abandoning them. Rojan too has run; despite his promise to his mother that he would take care of his brother. And now his brother has contacted him because someone has killed his brother's wife and kidnapped their daughter. This novel is chock full of old tropes but this is the story of Rojan and his journey of self discovery that takes him to the depths of the world he would have preferred to forget.
The trail to his niece takes him to the lowest level of society where it still rains Synth and life is cheap and there is evidence that the Ministry is hip deep in whatever it is that is driving the social order in the lowest levels of society. In the depths of despair where even the errant ministry minions might find that life is cheap; they are still feared by those who would kill them because of what they represent even to the cut throats of the social order.
It is there that Rojan must confront his greatest fears and hope to find a balance in the power that he's been trying to avoid. Here he discovers love for an idea that is represented by a person who is nothing like that ideal, but masquerades as that person he is drawn to. When the time comes Rojan has to draw deep into himself to decide if he will do what is right or try to return to his comfort-zone where he's kept himself hidden.
This is an outstanding SFF that most Fantasy lovers should enjoy and some Science Fiction aficionados will appreciate.
It will definitely be worthwhile to see what Francis Knight follows this with.
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