(2007) Chris Wooding, Gollancz, £10.99, pbk, 312pp, ISBN 978-0-575-07699-0
The Fade hits the ground running, throwing us into the action from the word go. Wooding gives us barely a moment to take in what's happening before we're already involved in the story. It's a strong way to begin a novel and, in being carried away with the action, you can only keep reading to get an idea of what's going on. Soon enough we get the chance to put together all the information we've received into order. The setting is a world underground, hidden away from a sun that will kill anyone who walks on the surface. We view this world through the eyes of Massima Leithka Orna, a spy and assassin for a powerful Clan of the merchant society of Eskarans. They are locked in a vicious war with the xenophobic Gurta, during which Orna loses her husband and becomes imprisoned in a harsh labour camp. Nursing her hatred of the Gurta, and driven by a desire to save her son from the bloodshed, she plans to escape the Gurta's grasp. As one of the Eskarans most-feared warriors, she is more than capable of this... The trouble is, the breakout seems too long a time in coming, and the pace of the story while inside the labour camp is hardly as breathtaking as the opening. It's a shame that a potentially epic canvas is constrained, largely, to the inside of a Gurta prison. But it is a gruesomely drawn environment that Wooding creates in that prison, and Orna's growing resentment of her captors is nicely explored.
However, what immediately comes to your attention when reading the book is the chapter layout. The descending chapter numbers imply there is some grand conclusion that we are heading towards. Perhaps there is, but unfortunately I didn't pick up on it. Interspersed with these are chapters that progress backwards in time, exploring more of Orna's background. It's an interesting and stylish move, but I didn't find anything intelligent in the technique. If anything, it only tells us what we already knew and it seems a lost opportunity for Wooding to choose a scheme like this and do so little with it.
The world is imaginatively realised and the fantastic elements of the story are rounded out with some good science. Much like Steph Swainson, this 'fantasy' comes very close to being a straight science fiction story with the style of a fantasy novel. The presence of magic, in the form of 'chthonomancers', seems to jar with this though. Again, one wonders why Wooding didn't just ground the story in realistic elements, when the 'magic' seems to be thrown in purely for the sake of it. This novel does seem like something of an oddity. There are some nice ideas at work, but they all seem superfluous to the plot. I would be interested to see some of Wooding's other work as this novel feels like the author never takes full advantage of his creativity. It has a style in a dark and cynical fashion, but I never really felt that the novel ever rose above the simple adventure story at its core.
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