Fade To Black by Francis Knight book review

Fade To Black by Francis Knight is out 26 February 2013 from Orbit

Dystopian future fiction has never been more relevant in a world that’s already on its knees thanks to recession.

Saying that, Fade To Black isn’t so much set in a dystopian future as a kind of alternate present, where guns are a recent invention and magic exists but is semi-outlawed. It’s a city built upwards rather than across so only those at the top can catch some rays, an interesting concept in a story that meshes magic with tech.

Somewhere in between the highest and lowest levels is Rojan Dizon, a part-time bounty hunter and magical outlaw; a people finder for money, and more than that for more money. Out of nowhere, Rojan’s estranged brother contacts him for the first time in eight years to drop a string of emotional bombshells – he’s married, his wife has been murdered and his daughter kidnapped. Seemingly, Rojan is the only one that can find her.

Not everyone can knock it out of the park with a first novel and Fade To Black has precious little to really latch onto – not good enough to recommend but not bad enough to amuse yourself with. In fact the only really notable aspect to the book is Rojan’s internal monologue. Knight takes the tricky step of writing a first-person narrative from the perspective of the opposite gender, and the results are a tad alarming.

Rojan is clearly designed to be a roguish Han Solo type, but comes across as a cartoonish, stereotypical womaniser. Were Knight a male writer Rojan would be a typical Mary Sue. His sexual exploits end up just as narrative dead weight. It’s not a particularly interesting parallel universe either, with generic shady ministry/government as the villains, and it’s all a little bit hackneyed and amusingly mostly reminiscent of Highlander II.

The prose doesn’t save it either as Knight has no real narrative flair, right down to the book’s very title. Few writers arrive fully formed, but it seems Knight has a long way to go before she becomes a writer to look out for.