Last to Rise by Francis Knight – Book Review

Last to Rise by Francis Knight Book Review

Last to Rise CoverFantasy-Noir. That was all I needed to hear before I hit the “buy” button on amazon for this series. Delving into the subgenres of fantasy has been a fun and rewarding experience as I come across books that aren’t the traditional “knight saving a princess.” These books are even, in many cases, leagues better than those types of books. Last to Rise is the end to what has grown to be one of my favorites in recent times. While I’m sad to see it go, Francis Knight ends the book in a picture-perfect way that left me smiling in approval.

The towering vertical city of Mahala is on the brink of war with its neighboring countries. It might be his worst nightmare, but Rojan and the few remaining pain mages have been drafted in to help. The city needs power in whatever form they can get it — and fast. With alchemists readying a prototype electricity generator, and factories producing guns faster than ever, the city’s best advantage is still the mages. Tapping their power is a risky plan, but with food in the city running out, and a battle brimming that no one is ready for, risky is the best they’ve got…

The run down city that built up instead of out, Mahala is one of the hallmarks of the series. Our final installment has us running up and down the many levels, and subsequent social standing, of the city giving us a true look at the current state of the inhabitants as the siege rages on outside. While I know what the author was going for when she introduced the “phantom bacon” smell I was a little put off by the fact that seemingly no one else noticed but Rojan. In a city full of starving people the greasy deliciousness that is bacon should have been more of a thing amongst the populace. I did however enjoy the reveal of what the “phantom bacon” smell actually was though and it was a weird piece that had me grinning with the thought process that must have gone behind it. Little touches like this are where the majority of faults can be found in the book. Each of these are small enough details that they can be overlooked without too much hassle on the part of the reader so they can enjoy the overall story. Most of the characters return in standard form over the course of the story. Pasha remains fiercely devoted to Jake, Lise remains spunky and immersed in developing new tech, and Perak juggles the cardinals and a corrupt government while enemies try to break down the gates. Jake takes a side role and Erlat, the prostitute with a heart for Rojan, takes her place in a spot closer to center stage and keeps the looming threat of the Black from consuming Rojan’s sanity. Rojan returns in fine form for the conclusion. This pessimistic hero constantly faced the impending battle outside the city and never gave up. While this is standard amongst fantasy heroes it shines all the brighter in Last to Rise as the theme of sacrifice plays a heavy role in the book, from the magic system, to the character motivations, to the city itself. Knight is smart to keep her world from falling prey to the idea of redeeming a dystopia. Instead she grounds her finale in a realistic, for the world, ending that left me a little speechless at the end. Pain and sacrifice are very real and very important to a book with pain mages and darkness that looms around Mahala. I’m glad to see Knight stay true to that idea and away from any rainbows and butterflies on the final pages.


Francis Knight – Author Interview


I had the great pleasure of conducting an interview with the talented Francis Knight, author of the Rojan Dizon Trillogy – Fade to Black, Before the Fall set to be released on June 18, and Last to Rise scheduled to be released November 26, 2013.

If you remember my review of Fade to Black I applauded her ability to translate what I loved about film noir into a written form. That combined with characters you can’t help butfall in love with for their wit and charm, an original setting, with an engaging plot left me eager for more.

So naturally I sent a request and before I knew it I had received a copy of Before the Fall for a review. Once I finished I had to have some burning questions answered. So without further ado, I give you Francis Knight!

  • Anyone can search Google to get your author bio. What’s something new and interesting that you can tell us about yourself?

I’ve got three tattoos – two dragons and a Rohirrim flag. I’m kind of hankering for another one, but I can’t decide what I want.

  • Would you mind giving us some information on the development of theRojan Dizon books – inspiration, writing process, or any quirky pre-writing rituals?

My usual process is ‘start with a character in a situation’, a vague idea of the tone/atmosphere I’m going for and then I develop by writing to see what happens. For the Rojan books, I originally envisaged a sort of future dystopia, but after feed back from my writers group it became apparent I’m pretty shoddy at future tech, so I decided to go for dark, Bladerunner style fantasy. The rest turned up as I was writing. And my only ritual is ‘Tea!’

  • Rojan is one of the most interesting characters I’ve had the pleasure to read. Where did he come from? 

Rojan turned up pretty much fully formed – a part of the setting in essence. He wouldn’t be who he is without the city and what’s happened to it, and what it’s done to the people he knows and loves. He’s the cynical, sarcastic part of me unleashed and stripped of hope. Which did make him fun to write!

  • Besides the trilogy of books focusing on Rojan do you have any other stories to be told in this world?

Certainly! Frankly, I have more ideas for stories than I could reasonably write in the next ten years, though not all on the same world. I’ve got plans for a few other cities on Rojan’s world though…


  • Faith and religion feature heavily in your books, especially the role of the deacons and archdeacon in the government. Why did you choose to place such a strong focus on the beliefs of the city and what does that do for the plot? 

Religion and faith are large parts of the fantasy genre (in much the same way that tech is part of Sci Fi – a story can live without it, but it’s a common theme). But I wondered about the more personal aspects of living in a theocracy – especially if you don’t believe in the same things everyone else does. Rojan’s lack of faith is a huge part of him, and a reaction to the same things that made him such a cynic elsewhere. For the plot – well it can go many ways! It always can. But it informed the setting, the backstory of the city, which then informs what people are doing now, what they want and how they go about it, which becomes the plot. As with any setting, all the aspects have to work together to make a convincing whole, and that’s, and people’s reaction to their setting, is what affects the plot.

  • Your world has an interesting blend of technology and magic. What made you decide to include some modern amenities like cars and guns while still having a strong and present magic system?

I was interested in how magic and technology could co-exist. If not everyone can do magic, but tech can do some of the things that magic can. Or if one can do things the other can’t. How does it affect the balance of power? Mages might feel tech is a threat and suppress it, or vice versa. They could of course live happily together, but that’s for another story!

  • That being said, why do you think so many fantasy authors are hesitant to create worlds that feature technological advancement as well as magic 

Well, I can’t speak for anyone else, but what daunted me about it was because of the difference it makes to the balance of power. Swords and wizards, there’s been many books about that, and the balance of power that brings, and its variations. We know it, it’s comfortable (and there’s nothing wrong with that!). But once you change one thing, it has a ripple effect – it can affect everything! That said, there are many authors who play around with magic and tech.

  • What drew you to the dark, gritty aura around your Rojan Dizon books? I’ve read it elsewhere that films such as Blade Runner and Sin City appealed to and inspired you, why is that?

I’ve always had a soft spot for dark atmospheres when I read or watch a film, I don’t know why. I thought it was about time I tried to see if I could make one for myself. A challenge.

  • Before-The-Fall-J3-2-662x1024Fade to Black ends with great change for the city of Mahala. How are the things Rojan experienced in Under going to change him for Book 2, Before the Fall?

Well, the change really started in Fade to Black, but we’ll see more of that as the books go on. Rojan was pretty self absorbed to begin with, but he’s forced to confront parts of his own and other people’s natures. What he experienced Under, and what he woke up to about himself, has a profound affect on that confrontation, and how he deals with what it shows him.

  • Mahala is a beautifully crafted city that reaches up instead of out. The Ministry expends a lot of effort to ensure that the outside world essentially doesn’t exist. Yet we see a Storad fighting in the Death Matches during Fade to Black. Any chance we’ll see more of the neighboring nations in Books 2 or 3?

I think it’s safe to say that Mahala is going to have to acknowledge that there is, in fact, an outside. The neighbours will be sticking their oar in plenty, so it’ll be hard to hide! Rojan may even get to leave the city….

Before the Fall by Francis Knight – Book Review

Before the Fall by Francis Knight Book Review

Before-The-Fall-J3-2-662x1024Towering skyscrapers of a city built upward instead of outward, intense segregation and prejudice, a starving city, two nations camped outside ready for war, and magic fueled by pain. Welcome back to the city of Mahala and it’s savior, or destroyer depending how you look at it, Rojan Dizon. Before the Fall is the sequel to the hit Fade to Black a book I reviewed a short while back and lauded for it’s ability to depict what I love about the Film Noir genre and distill it into written form. Make no mistake, Francis Knight has done it again and knocked this one right out of the park.

We pick up not long after we left Rojan, Jake, and Pasha. The Glow, the lifeblood of the city of Mahala has been destroyed at Rojan’s hands and they are busily working on a suitable replacement for the pain factories the former Archdeacon ran through kidnapping and coercion. Dwarf and his new assistant Lise are building a generator that mixes pain magic and electricity in order to generate enough Glow using a fraction of the pain previously required. It’s an ambitious task that has its difficulties, namely the shortage of Pain Mages, as well as detractors, those high up in the Ministry that would rather not use the heretic Mages except as target practice.

Following the opening of the Pit, the wild and passionate population of Downsiders have ventured higher into the city, namely into such aptly named areas as “No-Hope-Shitty” and other areas of Under, bringing with them their own versions of the Goddess and the tiger Namrat and unique modes of devotion. Unfortunately Upsiders don’t do well to what they deem as heretic practices and as such the Downsiders are more discriminated and rejected by those who believe themselves superior. It is a stark line that Knight does a wonderful job of illustrating with separate Church’s and other distinguishing marks that are reminiscent of time periods of segregation in the real world without crossing the line into being offensive or distasteful.

It isn’t long before Rojan and group are thrust into another scheme, this time involving the murders of burgeoning Pain Mages, just discovering their talents. It’s a race against the clock, as with each death tempers flair and outright rioting and civil war become an ever-increasing reality. As with any good novel however, the action doesn’t end when the murderer is discovered. Instead it merely uncovers another layer in a growing web of conspiracy and plotting.

Rojan himself is back in true fashion, flirting with women, causing mayhem, and being an all around smartass. He is a character that is written in the true mold of a modern hero. He’s not a glorified, long blond hair blowing in the breeze Prince Charming, but rather a tired, hurt, and relatable man doing only what he thinks is best.

In Fade to Black we spent a significant amount of time with Jake, the duel-sword wielding hero of the Downside Death Matches. And Rojan’s most fervent crush, despite her heart belonging to Pasha, fellow Pain Mage. In Before the Fall Pasha is treated with that boost in page-time and it makes his character who, if I were to be honest, was not very high on my list after book one, a much more likeable character. You get a deeper look into his character and the methods by which he operates and believes, and I for one am glad to have gotten to know the inner lion on that monkey-faced man.

Besides Rojan and Pasha, what I love most about Knight’s writing is her magic system, or more accurately the fuel for it, pain. With a dislocated finger or a slice from a blade providing enough power for a decent spell, it falls on Knight to put the reader in the mind of Rojan or any of the other Pain Mages when they use their power, and she does so brilliantly. I often found myself cringing in sympathetic pain whenever Rojan tightened his severely damaged hand into a painful fist. For me it’s a thrill to no end to not only feel what the character does but linked directly into the magic as it is makes it all the more appealing, as though I’m merely a step away from using that pain to power a spell myself.

With the enemy nations of the Storad and Mishans are literally pounding at the gates at the finish of the book it leaves me counting the days until the conclusion of the trilogy releases on November 26. Last to Rise is shaping up to be a wonderful flourish of a finish as Rojan, Pasha, and Jake all deal with more and more pain, whether that pain takes them to death or to the Black, or on the rare chance they survive the coming war, I simply cannot wait to read what’s coming next.

Before the Fall will be released on June 18, 2013.

Check over here at Fantasy-Faction to read my interview with Francis Knight!

 —-                                                                                                                                                   —-

With the destruction of their main power source, the towering vertical city of Mahala is in crisis.

Downsiders are verging on a riot, and the mage Rojan Dizon is just trying to keep his head down and some power back to the city — whilst staying hopeful that he won’t get executed for using his magic. Then things go from bad to worse when a Downsider and emerging mage is found murdered. It’s a crime that divides all sides, and the result is mayhem.

But Rojan’s worst nightmare is just around the corner. When he discovers the killer’s identity, he’s either going to be responsible for all-out anarchy, or for a war with Mahala’s neighboring countries that no one is prepared for.

And there’s nothing Rojan hates more than being responsible.