A World of Pain – ‘Fade to Black’ by Francis Knight

fadetoblackFade to Black is a solid unpretentious urban fantasy. Francis Knight sets out her stall early, sticks to her theme and delivers some good old-fashioned storytelling.

Rojan Dizon is a bounty hunter; a seeker of people. At first glance, he’s tough and uncomplicated; if the price is right he’ll take the job. He lives in the city of Mahala, a city state that sprawls vertically rather than outwards. The city is layered; the closer to the sky you live the richer you are. Dizon does most of his work amongst the bottom feeders.

Mahala is a totalitarian state. Order is kept by the Ministry and their soldiers. Their regime is based on fealty to the Goddess, a longstanding deity co-opted to induce compliance in the city’s populace. The story takes place in the wake of a toxic disaster. ‘Synth’, the source of the city’s energy turned out to be deadly. Thousands died, synth was outlawed, and a new source of energy found. Weaker but cleaner. Sort of like coal vs wind.

When his niece is kidnapped Dizon is drawn into a conspiracy that will rock the whole of Mahala. He travels deeper into the city than any normal citizen is allowed to go. Here he finds his entire world view challenged, and we discover there’s a great deal more about him than he pretends.

The novel’s strength lies in Dizon’s personal secret. He is a pain-mage. Once a powerful group, but now outlawed, pain-mages can cast spells but only by hurting themselves first. It’s an interesting concept, one that keeps Dizon’s powers balanced. He can use his magic in his quest but only by making a great personal sacrifice.

Dizon is a strong central character. His smart-mouthed PI routine is in danger of being a cliché but is rescued by a thick streak of self doubt. The ensemble cast is interesting and the villainy behind the scenes is grimly fascinating.

The novel flags a little in the middle, but just as I began to wonder where things were going, Knight slammed the pedal down. The final 100 pages are action packed and filled with moral dilemma. Dizon can save the day, but at what cost to himself and the rest of the city’s inhabitants? It’s a simple but effective device. The ending is complete but open, leaving room for a sequel, and contains some neat sleight-of-hand on Dizon’s part to help him out of a tight spot. This clever twist is worth the entry fee alone.

Whilst Fade to Black didn’t blow me away, it did keep me entertained. The world is interesting and the characters compelling. I look forward to finding out what’s in store for them in book 2, Before the Fall.

This book was obtained through the Amazon Vine Programme 



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