Dark fantasy from England: Sussex resident Knight’s debut and first of a series.
The city of Mahala is built layer upon layer, from the sunlit towers where the rich and powerful live to the ghastly black underworld of the ’Pit, inhabited only by those who have no other choice. When the current rulers, the religion-inspired Ministry, overthrew the old pain mage who governed gangster style, they outlawed pain magic, the source of the city’s motive power. The problem was, the city relied on manufactures for survival, so a new power source was required. “Synth” fulfilled the need for a while, but it proved to be a slow, cumulative and lethal poison that still drips downward toward the ’Pit. To replace synth, the Ministry invented the much more efficient Glow—but nobody knows where it comes from, and nobody asks. Private detective Rojan Dizon keeps a low profile since he’s secretly a pain mage, with the ability to draw magic from his own pain and that of others, and faces execution if discovered. But then Rojan’s estranged brother, Perak—he’s some sort of bigwig Ministry researcher—asks him to locate his niece: she’s been mysteriously abducted and taken to the ’Pit. Rojan, self-admittedly a rogue, womanizer and shirker of responsibility, can’t refuse. But what he uncovers in the depths of the city is worse than anything he could have imagined. With the carefully if not always logically constructed backdrop, imaginative production and use of magic, the plot doesn’t always add up, and there’s rather more psychologizing than most readers will be comfortable with.
Intensely realized and gripping, nonetheless: an auspicious inauguration.