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The Fade
Chris Wooding
Gollancz, 320 pages

The Fade
Chris Wooding
Chris Wooding is only 31 yet he has already signed his first Hollywood film deal and won several awards for his writing. He is the author of, amongst others, the Broken Sky series, which has sold over 200,000 copies in the US alone, and The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray, which won the Silver Smarties award. He has travelled extensively, plays bass and guitar and has recorded several albums with various bands and toured in Europe. His books have been published all over the world and translated into 19 languages, and his Braided Path trilogy for Gollancz was a critical and international success. He is currently working on two movies with a top Hollywood director.

Chris Wooding Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Skein of Lament
SF Site Review: The Weavers of Saramyr

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Hebblethwaite

The Fade is not your average fantasy. For one thing, it starts on chapter 30 and the chapter numbers count backwards as the action moves forwards in time; but there are also higher-numbered chapters that move back through the protagonist's past. I'm not sure that this technique actually adds much: it's not the most effective way of distinguishing between past and present; nor does it really help build up tension as the book "counts down" to the climax. I mention all this because The Fade as a whole is similar, in that, for all that it's a good book, it doesn't achieve everything it seems to be aiming for.

Our protagonist is Orna, a member of the elite Cadre, bonded for life to the Clan Caracassa. Orna's people, the Eskarans, are at war with the Gurta; as the novel begins, she is in battle. Tricked by the Gurta, Orna's husband is killed, and she is captured and taken to the prison-fortress Farzala. At first despairing and aloof (which gains her the nickname of "the fade," a kind of apparition), she gradually forms relationships with a small group of her fellow-prisoners and formulates a daring plan to escape. It spoils nothing to say that the plan succeeds; Orna's subsequent journey takes her as far as the surface (most of the inhabitants of her moon live underground), before she returns home, determined to rescue her son from the front-line and to find out who it was that betrayed her party to the Gurta.

There is a lot to admire and enjoy about The Fade. Chris Wooding is a fine prose stylist, adept at writing both description and action. The world he creates is fascinating, with mansions built into the roots of giant fungi, people who have never seen flowers or sunlight (people to whom, indeed, sunlight is deadly), little pockets of wonder dropped in almost casually. The author's characterization is also sharp, with neat observations of both secondary characters (such as the aristocrat Liss, who is described as being "out of her depth when dealing with something factual") and Orna herself. Wooding puts his protagonist through the wringer, physically and emotionally; she is torn between her evident love for her family, and the disposition that a lifetime of bonded service has left her with, even as the book nears its end ("I'll never be able to kill enough to make this feeling go away, and I know that. But just these few. Just these"). I also appreciated some of Wooding's observations on power and morality; when her Gutan interrogator suggests that "[p]erhaps, in the end, there is no right or wrong, only perspective," Orna replies, "No... There's only history. Whoever wins this war gets to be right."

With so much in it that's good, why does The Fade ultimately fall short? One reason is that Wooding does less well with an aspect that's particularly crucial to the book's success: the plot hinges on a political conspiracy that, frankly, I found boring. I simply wasn't bothered about the whys and wherefores of the treachery, when I should have been gripped by it. That's the main problem, but the ending also disappoints, as the final confrontation verges too far towards melodrama. Something else that lessened my enjoyment of the novel somewhat was the way that Orna's street-smart vernacular masked the extraordinary nature of her world. Earlier, I referred to "little pockets of wonder be dropped in almost casually"; they may dropped in a bit too casually for the book's own good. Whilst this is a perfectly legitimate stylistic strategy -- we see everything through Orna's eyes, and her world is of course ordinary to her -- it's a shame that it dilutes our experience of the world that Wooding was so accomplished at building.

The cover blurb naturally talks The Fade up, suggesting it is "like nothing you've ever read before," which is a silly thing to say, because how could it ever be true? The Fade is on a continuum, but it's firmly towards the upper end of that continuum. Though not quite up there with the best, I found it to be a superior slice of high fantasy, certainly better than many other such books. Wooding is an author I've intended to read for some time, and I'm pleased to say that it was worth reading him.

Copyright © 2008 David Hebblethwaite

David lives in Yorkshire where he reads a lot of books and occasionally does other things. His reviews have appeared in various venues and are all logged at his review blog He also maintains a personal blog, Reading by the Moon.

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