Luke Arnold returns to the world of Sunder City and its surrounds in One Foot in the Fade, the third entry in his Fetch Philips series which began with The Last Smile in Sunder City. Once again he delivers a winning, if downbeat, combination of hard boiled gumshoe, urban fantasy, high fantasy and social commentary all filtered through the world-weary narration of hero/anti-hero Philips. This is an ongoing series so this review contains very minor spoilers.
Arnold returns to his world in which the magic has gone away, magical creatures are suffering and humans are in the ascendancy. Fetch Philips not only had something to do with this but in Dead Man in a Ditch he saved Sunder City which is now beholden to the wealthy, rapacious Niles Thurston. But Fetch still has hope that there is a way to bring the magic back. And when an indication that magic can return and a chance presents itself he starts to investigate. Before long he has gathered a crew and set out on a quest. Being a Fetch Philips quest this is one which is full of enemies, violence and close scrapes but he keeps his goal in mind, no matter how much punishment he takes or how many personal bridges he has to burn along the way.
The down at heel Philips continues to both be true to himself and to (slowly) develop in this book. He is too focussed on bringing magic back and assuaging his deep pit of guilt to see when he is doing the wrong thing, but self-aware enough to reflect on his mistakes later on. He is also handy with a sword from his army days and as tough as old boot leather which is useful when you get beaten up as much as he does. Once again, though, readers will stick with Philips and forgive him to a point, because they too will be hoping he can bring the magic back into this world. In this respect Arnold uses Philips optimism as a bulwark against the darkness inherent in the series’ premise, the rise of commercialism and victory of human-centred pragmatism over the wonders of the past.
In some ways, One Foot in the Fade is closer to classic fantasy than the previous books in the series. Philips gathers a group together to go on a quest to steal a precious item from a heavily guarded fortress. But as with the other books in this series, Arnold is as interested in subverting these genre standards and the expectations that come with them as he is in using them. And the mission is bookended by the more urban and familiar environs of Sunder City.
While theoretically One Foot in the Fade could be read as a stand alone (key plot points from previous books are covered), it builds on the two books that have come before so that the experience will be much richer for those who have been on the journey. With that in mind, this is another great entry in a series that continues to impress.