‘The Fade’ is set in a moon, whose sun scorched surface is liveable to only a hardy few. The rest of civilisation has long since descended underground. Where, in a system of vast caverns beneath the surface, multiple races war amongst themselves for reasons not made clear. Of all these races, we focus on two, the Eskarans and the Gurka. The two sides have been fighting a long and bloody war that has inflicted horrific loses on both sides.
Orna is an Eskaran, a race that most closely resembles humans. She is a Cadre of the clan Carracassa, trained since she was ten years old to be a formidable soldier, assassin and spy. With no rights of her own. she is a slave, owned by the clan and must do their bidding without question.
We first meet her, together with her husband Rynn, fighting in a losing battle against the Gurka. This battle very quickly turns to a massacre when Orna realises that the Gurka have set a trap. Too late to warn Rynn, she sees him killed and herself taken prisoner.
Working for the Gurkan war machine, inside a prison surrounded by molten rock, Orna vows to escape. Her driving obsession is too return so that she can rescue her son from the front line. Jai is an engineer, not a soldier, but he joined the army to gain the approval of his father, the now dead Rynn.
In the course of her escape, Orna discovers a shattering secret that reveals the massacre was engineered by a traitor from her own side. Worse still, the traitor is within Clan Carracassa and one of her masters.
The rest of the tale centres around Orna and her escape and journey back to Eskara. The need to return, to see her son and unmask the traitor becomes Orna’s driving obsession.
Now this may all sound quite exciting, I certainly thought so, but what actually plays out is really quite lifeless. The story is told in such a lifeless, monotonous way that there really is no thrill. The setting, though highly original, has no impact on the story what so ever. The fact there is rock overhead rather than sky makes no difference. As such, the story felt like it was grafted on to the setting. I like the world of a novel to influence the story, for instance if it is set onboard a ship then someone better get wet. The fact they were underground was never explored or developed and ultimately felt like a waste. The many races and civilisations mentioned were just names and all felt half baked. As world building goes, everything was left underdeveloped.
The main story regarding Orna and her escape was a curiously boring affair. Partly due to the fact that Orna herself is dull. My main problem with her is she was so much better than everyone else. A highly trained fighter, she was streaks ahead of any adversary she faced so I never once felt she was in any real danger. She fought and killed with ridiculous, super-human ease which became very boring very quickly.
Running alongside this main story was a separate one dealing with Orna’s past. This was told backwards as in ‘Use Of Weapons’ by Iain M. Banks. Starting from before the battle and going right back to Orna’s childhood. In these backwards chapters, there were a few minor plot points but these could have been weaved into the main story and the rest of it cut with no ill effect. Having two stories, one running forward, the other running backward felt like a gimmick and added nothing of value.
Apart from Orna, there are few other major characters of any note. The rest were bland with no personality and were all one note and interchangeable. None of them leapt from the page and, by the end, I could not have cared less about any of them.
The story ground on until the end when the obvious, signposted ‘twist’ occurred to bring the whole thing to a conclusion.
I think ‘The Fade’ thought it was saying more than it really did. The message of ingrained hatred and the futility of war was rendered toothless by bland characters and dull plotting. I was disappointed with ‘The Fade’ as I had heard great things and was really looking forward to it.
(pub: Gollancz, 2008. 312 page enlarged paperback. Price: £10.99 (UK only). ISBN: 978-0-575-07699-0
312 page enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK only). ISBN: 978-0-575-08298-4)