It’s a city built upwards, not across – where streets are built upon streets, buildings upon buildings. A city that the Ministry rules from the sunlit summit, and where the forsaken lurk in the darkness of the Under.
Rojan Dizon doesn’t mind staying in the shadows, because he’s got things to hide. Things like being a pain-mage, with the forbidden power to draw magic from pain. But when the fate of Mahala depends on him using his magic, he can’t hide forever.
The story follows Rojan Dizon, bounty hunter and pain-mage – though he likes to keep the latter quiet, and only uses his power as a last resort in his work. We first meet him tracking down a runaway teenager in the dark, grimy depths of the under, cursing his lot, and just keen to get out of the place. Dizon is one of those likable rogues; thinks he’s good with the ladies, doesn’t give a toss about much, but at the same time there is an incredibly human quality to him, one that you can’t help but fall in love with, which makes him perfect as a title character.
The story really kicks into high gear when Dizon receives a call from his brother, who is in hospital, asking for his help; his sister-in-law is dead and niece kidnapped, and Dizon is the only one his brother believes can help. This familial obligation takes Dizon on a crazy path to the truth, and into parts of the city even he didn’t know existed.
Mahala, the city in Francis’ tale, is incredible. You can almost smell the stench of the Under, and feel the sun on your face in the few moments Dizon is granted travel to the upper levels. It seems to live and breathe around the story, every bit as important as the human characters it is home to, and yet it doesn’t impede. It is a balance very cleverly done.
Once again, I would be remiss not to mention the cover – it’s stunning. Placed so the onlooker is in the Under looking up to the sky, it gives an amazing sense of the scale of Mahala, and of the world we’re about to be pitched into. That is one of Francis’ greatest achievements – giving one city the scale and depth of an entire nation.
Full of witty quips, strong emotion, broken yet charming characters, and jam packed with astonishing revelations and fantastic ideas, Fade to Black is a must-read for 2013. I am lucky enough to know Francis, and received a signed ARC from her back in October. It has been well-treasured and well-read ever since. Do yourself a favour, and get your hands on this book as soon as you can.