Nations divided by vast lakes, destinations defined by stalagmites and minerals, a world without a sun: The Fade (2007) takes place in an unfathomable network of caves beneath the surface of an unknown planet. Here the reader finds a cavernous underground in the midst of jealous war. Two distinct races of beings fighting over their shared bubbles of space. It is on the battlefield that we meet the protagonist and learn that she is a highly skilled and thoroughly trained one-woman war machine. Soon, we also learn that she has a loving family and a complicated set of allegiances. This is the foundation upon which The Fade is built.
Orna is an elite assassin and highly trained warrior, who fulfills many roles for the family she has been sworn to serve since birth. It is while she is on a mission in the midst of the ongoing war that she is captured and forced to live out the rest of her time in a gruelling prison camp. That is, if she can’t find a way to escape her fate.
One of the biggest strengths of The Fade is the setting. I hadn’t read an underground world before and this one was as enthralling as it was strange and breathtaking. Aspects of the cavernous land I wouldn’t have considered come to the forefront in surprising and satisfying ways.
A weakness I came across was a lack of depth in one of the parallel plots in The Fade. I found it hard to be emotionally invested in one of the plot lines, which slowly became more of an issue as the story progressed. Though it did not by any means ruin the story for me, it did make some of the plot twists pack a little less punch.
I found it very easy to relate to the protagonist most of the time. She is a dynamic, powerful entity both in her culture and among her peers. Her strife and hardships are deeply recognizable and her characterization remains consistent throughout the novel. The only aspect that I found difficult to relate to was her role as a mother. It is very probable that because I am not a parent that I found those parts slightly clunky and/or awkward.
Like many other books by Chris Wooding I’ve read so far, I loved the depth of the story and the surprising way everything was connected. The characterization of Orna and many of the secondary characters were rich and deep. Unfortunately one of the interwoven plots does not hold the same emotional depth as the others. Overall The Fade was equal parts satisfying and heartbreaking.