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.

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Fade to Black by Francis Knight – Review

Fade to Black by Francis Knight – Review

  Fade-to-Black Fade to Black by Francis Knight is being advertised as an urban-fantasy novel, in the same vein as Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series or perhaps Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. In this I must disagree, as does the author herself. In reality if there was a particular sub-genre to associate Fade to Black with it would have to be Noir Fantasy.

From the city of Mahala itself to our protagonist Rojan Dizon, Francis Black conjures images of black-and-white cities, characters steeped in shadow, and private invesitgators with such skill that I felt I was reading some of the most classic movies from the 1950’s such as Double Indemnity or The Maltese Falcon. I’ll admit the noir style is a guilty pleasure of mine so there may be a fair bit of biasness on my part but I was delighted to see Knight’s work take on this particular feeling.

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Central to our plot is the magic found in this dark, dangerous setting. A magic that matches the tone of the setting brilliantly and aids it instead of being a simple addition. Pain Magic is what fuels the mages in this world. Dislocate your thumb and you can cast a small basic spell with bigger spells requiring more pain.

Pain magic is nothing new to the fantasy genre. In a community that places strong emphasis on the costs of magic, that which requires the pain of the practitioner is well-tread ground. What makes Knight stand apart from her peers is Rojan himself. Rojan is immediately shown to be a character that doesn’t see the appeal in hurting himself for the sake of a bit of magic. Why bother when there are plenty of alternative, and less painful, ways to get his results? That’s not to say he isn’t willing to put his pulse pistol to use when he needs to.

What’s that you say? What’s a pulse pistol?

Knight has also crafted a unique world that, technologically speaking, is a fair bit different than normal fantasy, even those set in a relatively modern time period.

The world in Fade to Black is a complex and interesting take on a world where magic is not just a feature but a staple of the culture and history as well. Pain magic was once used to fuel the city, powering technology and driving the ever-important trade that keeps the coffers full and Mahala a thriving city.

Following the execution and outlawing of pain mages, the city turned to an alchemical solution known as Synth. Synth was supposed to be the most viable alternative until it was discovered to be toxic to humans. Now this poisonous alchemy collects in the underbelly of the city and is a constant fear amongst citizens, as synth poisoning is one of the most horrible ways to die.

But as they say, necessity breeds innovation, and soon a new power source was developed – Glow. Glow tubes are used to power lighting, machinery, and even a fair facsimile for cars. Although even the Glow is not all that it seems and it’s true origins may be a bit more sinister than originally believed.

It would be impossible to talk about this book and not mention the setting that our story takes place in, the city of Mahala. Built upward instead of outward, Mahala is a place of corruption, degradation, and hard times by all who don’t live in view of the natural sky – which is 99%. The city itself gives off a sense of a life its own as the story continues and the history is established. And like any great character mystery after mystery is revealed in subsequent layers that make Mahala not only seem plausible but a realistic location that could be visited. From the level dubbed ‘Clouds’ to the seedy ‘underbelly’ there is plenty to still be learned in the coming books.

Francis Knight writes in a style very similar to thriller/detective novels. The pace is quick and mysteries abound, each time one is solved another three are revealed until the majority are solved by novel’s end. It’s hard not to get engrossed in Knight’s writing and I found myself spending many a night reading well past when I should have turned in for the night. I’m already eagerly awaiting the sequel when it is released later this year.

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Fade to Black wraps up nicely with things coming together in a perfect resolution while still leaving room for the sequel to take what was established and grow from it. Before the Fall has already been announced and is to be released on June 18, 2013.