Fade to Black – Book Review
It has been a while since I picked up a book that I either hadn’t already read once or wasn’t ashamed to admit I read. Fade to Black by Francis Knight was found on list of fantasy suggestions. It met my requirements of sounding like it might be an interesting story and most importantly was available at my local library.
As books go, it was Ok. I liked the attempt to create a slightly different fantasy world that was a good mix of modern-seeming technology (moving carriages run on some power source other than animal) and high fantasy (mages). The world was just discovering guns, having been restricted to knives and swords, but was very familiar to artificial lights (similar to the neon lights found in so many city centres). The writing was dark, gritty and had me thinking the author was male. Yes, men usually have a different voice than female authors – at least in my limited experience. The plot was solid, though not surprising. Actually it was all rather predictable. The first person narrative was solid. In the end the book was fine, nice, ok and any other generic adjective. I didn’t hate it, I sort of enjoyed it. But it was not engrossing, so I can’t say I loved it.
In fact, I wouldn’t be bothering with a book review at all if I hadn’t stumbled upon another reader’s review. While they appreciated the setting and the system of magic in use they complained loudly about the dark, gritty nature of the imagery and the overly sexist protagonist.
In one sense I understand where the reader is coming from. The book is dark, the plot is dark the setting is dark – literally you do not get to see the sun at all. Most of the story takes place deep in the shadows and underground, at least buried under layers of city to be effectively underground. But the complaint about the gruesome nature of the description seemed exaggerated. Sure the mages fuel their magic on pain, but that requires injury. And the beating of the main character’s had into the floor was no more gruesome than the torture that was happening in the background. Besides, it was no worse than a fight scene.
But the truly entertaining complaint regarding Rojan’s sexism is what made me chuckle. Yes, the main character is sexist. It is his flaw – the character flaw. All good characters need a problem, something that will serve to make them more human, make them less perfect. And since the only significant female in the book didn’t end up in his bed, I think this was a fair and reasonable flaw. He bungled his interactions with women becomes of his absolute belief that he could charm any woman he wanted into his bed. Arrogance is part of his character flaw. In fact, he needed very strong and very real flaws to fit into the broken world.
The author was clearly going for the dark. The main character is a bounty-hunter living on the edge of squalor in a dystopian city. He is to represent the average citizen living in the slums, eking out a meagre life in a world of despair. The character needed to reflect that in his attitudes, his appearance and his actions. He was supposed to be caustic, abrasive and cynical. He needed a tough personality to survive the harsh realities of his world.
Besides, his sexist ideas leaned more towards his arrogant assumptions of how all women would eventually fall for his charms rather than limit their role in society. At no point did he think that the only good woman was one staying at home and keeping house. His eye was drawn to strong females clearly capable of taking care of themselves. Does that excuse his attitudes? Well no, it is not supposed to. A character flaw is just that – a flaw. It is not a trait that makes the character more likeable, just more human. Flaws are meant to be detractors and clearly this one worked well.
So, what is the point of this review? Well, there isn’t much of one. Fade to Black is still a passable book made worse when I discovered it is supposed to be the first in a series. The best part was not the story itself (though it was fine), but the reactions of others.