FADE TO BLACK by Francis Knight

FADE TO BLACK was a strong debut novel for Francis Knight, relying on strong world-building, brisk plotting and a strong supporting cast of secondary characters to overcome my general indifference toward the protagonist.

I like the city Knight has created, where society has been forced to build upward and the rich literally live above the poor, getting the sunlight and eating rare delicacies such as meat. The people below live in poverty, literally toxic conditions that allow for little — if any — social mobility.

Rojan Dijon, a bounty hunter / missing persons finder, is our gateway to this world and we’re immediately introduced to him as he chases down a resourceful teenage runaway. The introduction of pain magic drew my interest quickly — like the best magic systems, its rules seem to keep its users in check while offering the opportunity for different ideas an story-telling avenues. I was also intrigued by Lise the runaway, an interesting character I kept waiting to see return to the flow of the story.

Knight does a great job of developing characters — Jake, Pasha, Dwarf, Lise, even Dog — the “secondary” characters leap off the page while Rojan seemed just a bit off to me. He makes numerous mentions of what a womanizer he is and how many women he’s always toying with, but we never actually see him womanizing or being all that smooth. Rather than thinking to myself, “Man, this guy’s a player,” I found myself thinking that this guy talks about how awesome he is with women way too much. He seemed to be in a middle ground — he wasn’t especially good or bad, he was just an average sort, but I got the feeling Knight intended him to be more than a mere “everyman” type.

I hope Knight figures his character out a bit more as the series continues. She’s shown the ability to develop fully fleshed-out, interesting characters around Rojan, so much so that I’m actually looking forward to the next book so I can read more about them.

There’s definitely a lot of potential to this series, and I’m looking forward to reading more, especially as it seems that Knight has a plan for the series, and this was merely an introductory chapter to a longer and more complex tale.

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