This review is brought to you as part of the Virtual Book Tour for The Fading Dusk, hosted by Xpresso Book Tours.
The Fading Dusk was written by Melissa Giorgio and first published in 2015. It is a fantasy novel which focuses on a magician’s assistant who is forced to prove her master’s innocence when he is accused of murder. The novel is the first part of the Smoke and Mirrors series, though at the time of writing no further instalments have been announced.
Irina has always been in Banthier’s debt. When her mother died, it was the magician who saved her from a life in the Slums, taking her under his wing and training her as his assistant. Although Banthier could be vain and self-important, he still meant the world to Irina. If it hadn’t been for his kindness, she would have been destined for a lifetime of sickness and poverty.
When Banthier is accused of using his magic to murder someone, Irina knows that it must be a mistake. Firstly, she can’t believe that her benefactor could ever do anything so horrible. Secondly, she knows that Banthier is not a sorcerer. Magic has been forbidden in the City of Dusk for decades and she knows that all of the tricks that the magician performs in his act are just smoke and mirrors.
Assuming that Irina knows something, the military quickly capture her and throw her in gaol. She is questioned regularly but can never give them what they want because she knows deep down that Banthier is innocent. Yet if she ever wants her freedom she knows that she needs to place her trust in someone. Could the handsome Captain Leonid be being honest when he says that he knows that she’s telling the truth? Or perhaps it is better to put her faith in Aden, the sweet young soldier who tells her that he’s always been her number one fan?
Irina knows that time is running out. If she can’t find a way to prove Banthier’s innocence, both of them will spend a lifetime behind bars…
In The Fading Dusk, Giorgio presents a dark and compelling world. The novel is very well written and is truly a descriptive treat. The way that Giorgio introduces Dusk to the reader is truly lovely, detailing the sights and sounds in such a way that it made it easy to imagine what life in the city was like. I love the social divide between the opulent Rise and the over-populated Slums. The story used the full city very effectively and so it was clear just how different life was between the mega-rich and the lowly peasants.
While the story was easy to read and never lost my interest, the pacing did feel a little uneven in places. The novel was very quick to enthrall with opening chapters chock-full of action. As the story is told entirely from Irina’s perspective, the reader is locked in her position and so the early novel is steeped in panic and confusion. However the pace dropped suddenly as soon as she was taken to prison. For the next couple of hundred pages, it became a very different type of story as Irina barely left her cell.
I’m not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing but it’s certainly not what I was expecting. The first half of the novel was highly claustrophobic, focusing mainly on Irina coming to know her captors through interaction and interrogation. Most of the plot of this section is given through exposition, as people frequently make Irina aware of what’s going on outside even though she never experiences this. If you’re a fan of character driven stories, this is a real treat but it’s possibly something to be aware of if you prefer a more action-packed story.
The plot picks up its pace again in the second half, as Irina is given a little more freedom (though is still kept on a tight leash). In this portion, Irina is allowed to help the militia investigate and the mystery slowly begins to unfurl. The murder mystery itself was a little basic. I kept expecting the faux-magic from Banthier’s act to play more of a role in the story but ultimately this was of zero importance. However, the story was still an enjoyable read and did have a couple of nice twists in the tail.
I was particularly impressed by the novel’s climax. I won’t spoil anything for you here but I did enjoy the way that the villain’s grand plan backfired on him and that Irina played the key part in his defeat. I’ve read so many novels lately where female characters proved to be completely incapable of doing anything without being rescued by their love interest. It was refreshing change to find one where the heroine does ultimately save the day. I also appreciated the fact that story wrapped up neatly. While it did leave enough threads hanging to lead into a sequel, it still felt like a complete story in its own right and therefore could easily stand alone.
In terms of characterisation, I felt that Giorgio really excelled. Although I hated the entire male cast until the half-way mark, they did receive a lot of character development and slowly started to grow on me as the story progressed. I particularly liked Vernen (I have soft spot for jovial characters) and kind of wished that he was the love interest as he seemed a lot less objectionable than Leonid! My only real disappointment with the secondary cast was the lack of female characters. When Coreen bowed out of the plot at the 30% mark, I was really quite disappointed. Other than Irina, the male characters get a lot more development than the female and I felt the novel could have done with another strong lady to balance things out.
I also grew to really like Irina as a protagonist. While I did occasionally wish that she was a little more proactive, I did appreciate the fact that she was just an ordinary girl surrounded by trained soldiers and powerful sorcerers. In a way, she reminded me a little of Charlie from The Last Necromancer. Both characters are very intelligent and yet seem to really rely on the protection of their love interest. However, this seemed a lot more acceptable in Irina’s case. It wasn’t like a magician’s assistant would have any grounding in the art of combat.
I also loved her relationship with Leonid. Although they got off to a rocky start, the novel spent plenty of time building their friendship and showing how this gradually developed into love. I thought that the pacing of this was absolutely perfect. It never came across as rushed and I could completely buy the two of them as a couple. The novel left me caring for the two of them together and I really hope that their bond remains in any future novels.
Well, I don’t really have much more to say about this one. Although the plot is a little simplistic, The Fading Dusk is an enjoyable light read. If you’re a fan of character driven stories, I would recommend this one. It’s not the most action-packed of novels but it does contain and nicely balanced cast who received a lot of development over the course of the story.
The Fading Dusk can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk