It’s a city built upwards, not across—where streets are built upon streets, buildings upon buildings. A city that the Ministry rules from the sunlit summit, and where the forsaken lurk in the darkness of Under.
Rojan Dizon doesn’t mind staying in the shadows, because he’s got things to hide. Things like being a pain-mage, with the forbidden power to draw magic from pain. But he can’t hide for ever.
Because when Rojan stumbles upon the secrets lurking in the depths of the Pit, the fate of Mahala will depend on him using his magic. And unlucky for Rojan—this is going to hurt.
I am in the lucky position of being one of Francis Knight’s beta readers. However, I would like to point out, if you are thinking of kidnapping and torturing me for spoilers, I also have an alternate set of plot points, and no matter how badly you torture me, no matter how high you play the Justin Beiber, you will not know if you are getting the real goods….or the alternate goods. So just be good (see what I did there?) and wait like the rest of us.
To try and sate your need for more info, I asked some questions to get to the nitty gritty of this series. Below is my interview.
Fade to Black has so many levels (no pun intended) of genre. It has shades of fantasy, sci fi, dystopia, alternate history (I say this because they do have a definite English tone to their slang) and urban fantasy. How do you classify it? Or do you?
It’s difficult – it’s not really UF, it’s not really this or that. I like to call it fantasy noir, which is the closest fit. Cynical main character, check. Femme fatale, check, lots of rain…check. Or as one crit reader put it about the setting, ‘Demented’. Pretty sure that was a compliment!
So, Rojan tells us what a scamp he is, but he has a habit of behaving like a decent human being. Does he not realize this?
He does, but he doesn’t want anyone else finding out! He has trouble – or more like is afraid of – connecting with people. If people think he’s actually OK, next thing you know he’ll be having friends and things. Which scares him silly, down in the deepest parts of his heart. So he puts on this show, and hopes like hell no one will notice.
Rojan is a great narrator – probably one of my favorite 1st person POV depictions. He’s definitely got his own voice. Where did that come from? Was it cultivated, or did it come fully formed?
It pretty much came fully formed, I’m not sure exactly where from. He just kind of…turned up. But let’s say I know a man or two like him. Cynical and brittle on the outside, soft as teddy bears on the inside.
First I have to congratulate you on the cover. It really brings Mahala to life. How involved were you in the cover design – and did it come out like you expected?
Hehe – it was nothing to do with me! My editor said they had plans for something using perspective, which I thought sounded pretty cool. Then they sent me the art work (by the fantastic Tim Byrne) and my big input was ‘OMG I LOVE IT!’. Wait till you see the art for book 3 – the best yet.
Religion plays a big role in the life of Mahala, as there is no separation of church and state. The Ministry rules with an iron fist and uses religion to keep folks in line. I felt that the Goddess has two faces. The Downsiders have her vibrant and colorful, or “primal and raw” to use Rojan’s description. The Upsiders have a toned down sort of “Buddy Goddess”. She looks benign and slightly constipated. She is usually depicted with the Tiger, Namrat, who is the death that stalks us all. This is a fascinating concept. What inspired it?
Well it wasn’t exactly conscious at first – but I think with religion, people see the facet that is most useful to them, and that’s part of the strength of it, but can also be its weakness. The Downsiders believe that it’s the fight that’s the thing, that while Namrat will win in the end you have to fight him every step of the way so that’s what they see in their Goddess. Back in the past of Mahala this was, well, a pretty useful way to be. Nowadays, Upside and the men who run it would rather people didn’t fight them so much, so they changed the message. Now it’s more behave nicely – read: do not revolt against the Ministry – and you’ll get a pat on the head and a biscuit in the afterlife (sorry, that’s Rojan talking there…) so they see her differently.
If you look at a lot of religious artwork (I’m not talking only Christianity) you can often see this sort of duality, depending on the times it was created in/was depicting. Most gods seem to wear more than one face….and people take the one they need at the time.
Just as the Goddess has a dual nature, so does the city itself. Or is it a triple nature? We never see Clouds or Heights, where the sun shines, but we understand it’s pretty sweet. We lurk in Under and then learn the city goes even deeper, and the life down there, while miserable in a lot of ways, has more freedom of religion, music, and more color. That’s almost the exact opposite of what you’d expect for a totalitarian regime. (Is that a question?)
In the Pit – well, not to spoiler, considering everything else that’s going on *cough* then certain freedoms are allowed as a sort of sop to that. What they give with one hand, they take with the other….For some time, no one knew that anyone survived down there and their society evolved away from that Over. Once they were discovered it was more difficult to enforce changes, so they let some slide, in return for turning a blind eye. Also, hey, those big shot Ministry dudes want somewhere nice to go and have their secret, impious fun. If they tried half of that Over, everyone would pitch a fit.
Your main character is a man, but you also have an ass-kicking female gladiator, Jake. Where did your inspiration for her come from? Was there ever any thought of turning things around and doing the POV from her angle?
I did initially consider doing the book from Jake’s POV – originally it was her story. Like most of my characters, she was inspired from several sources, for instance, partly a real life article about a woman who was a born survivor, and once survived, spent her time making sure others caught in the same trap survived/escaped. There may have been slightly less magic and swords in that case…. But the story that came out, it wouldn’t have worked so well from her POV, I think. Also, I’m not so sure I could have done her justice.
I know this is a trilogy – do you want to tease where we go next?
Ooh, well. Rojan is going to discover a lot about himself, and about the city and the people in it. There’ll be murders, mayhem, old faces and new mages, and he decides that women will be the death of him. Top of the World will never be the same again after Rojan visits….he does so like to make an impression.
Thanks so much for answering my questions. I’m excited for you! I think you’re gonne be BIG!
That’d be nice! But honestly, just glad to have my stuff out there, which I couldn’t do without my trusty betas….