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.

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!

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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.