The third book in the Fetch Phillips series, One Foot in the Fade sees readers welcomed back to Sunder City by Luke Arnold. Immediately it feels like a very different place from the Sunder of the first two books, and the feel of the story has likewise shifted. One Foot in the Fade feels like it is pulling away from the gritty noir fantasy that I thought reached its height in Dead Man in a Ditch, and is instead leaning into a broader fantasy feel. It remains true to its heart, and the nuanced, visceral, and morally heart-wrenching stories are still there for the characters we have come to feel so deeply for. The rich world Arnold has created for his stories continues to feel alive and growing as it welcomes readers in, and the dark mirror shines for both the human condition and the innate desire to do good in a world that only seems to have room for selfishness and suffering.
Book three of the Fetch Phillips novels finds readers following a different sort of protagonist; here Fetch is on a journey to save the world. Time has passed since the events of Dead Man in a Ditch, innovation has changed Sunder, the battle raged on the final pages of the previous book that left Fetch holding his former mentor after killing him a liminal memory, and Thurston Niles poised to fully take control of the city have driven Fetch nearly back into a corner. He is no longer hiding or denying his goal of seeing magic returned to the world, actively advertising it in some places. Fetch’s place in Sunder has changed, and his position on magic has earned him the enmity of Thurston Niles and his company, both professionally and personally due to Fetch’s charming personality. As dead magical creatures are found with actual traces of their magic returned, Fetch has to chase down new leads, work with new and old allies, and even come to hope again in what might be his most promising chance to see magic returned to the world.
There were parts of this book that felt so incredibly raw and honest, it made me imagine that those moments were the author putting their own words, not those of the characters, onto the page. There is deep and brutal character introspection, ruthless self criticism, and beautifully raw emotion. Fetch has become a man who desperately wants to hope again, fighting against the instincts he honed over so many years, and both sides of that struggle are laid bare in One Foot in the Fade. As readers who have seen where his story has been and where he has come from, seeing him try to hold onto hope is just that much more excruciating.
Luke Arnold definitively states in his Acknowledgements that Fetch Phillips is purposely a divergence from the archetypal and stereotypical protagonist. He doesn’t run heroically into danger, he isn’t a pillar of excellence or morality, he’s not even the expected “jaded tough guy” you might expect in a classic detective novel. Those stories have been told, and those aren’t necessarily the stories or the characters we need in our world today. Things are nuanced and painted in shades of grey. Valiant herculean heroes aren’t always the answer, and flawed, broken characters like Fetch are so much more relatable. I know there were times when Fetch felt almost too familiar, his words ringing a little too true. I think that was intentional, and the rawness in the text came from a vulnerable place of the author allowing more and more of himself to be placed on the page for the readers to enter into.
The story of One Foot in the Fade felt the furthest from the fantasy noir subgenre of the series, but it also felt like the right step. Much of the first two novels were about Fetch’s investigations, uncovering secrets, solving murders, and fully stepping into the role of the Man for Hire. That way of doing things is slowly lost through One Foot in the Fade as it becomes clear that doing things the way he’s always done them won’t work for Fetch in this new world. As the world changes, he has to adapt and readers get to see him challenged to both shift his thinking and rely on his friends and allies more than he has before. The heart of the protagonist remains the same, even as he is fighting to be the better version of himself in order to see magic returned, the calloused, hurt, and sour investigator is still in there kicking, much to my continued enjoyment.
The story of Fetch Phillips is anything but expected, and the ending of One Foot in the Fade followed that pattern in subverting my expectations. It didn’t give me the ending I wanted, but I would be lying if I said it was anything other than the ending the novel needed. We don’t always get, or deserve, happy and tidy endings. Sometimes stories need an ending that leaves you a little dissatisfied, not quite as neatly wrapped up as you would hope. But maybe that’s because this story isn’t quite over yet. Maybe it’s because there doesn’t have to be a perfect wrap up to every story. I don’t know what is in store for Fetch and Sunder City, I certainly hope there is more to come, and I shall be eagerly awaiting news. Regardless, One Foot in the Fade was a fantastic read, beautifully emotional and authentic as it told a story of hope, determination, and the tested but still unbreakable spirit of a man trying to do some good.
One Foot in the Fade is written by Luke Arnold, and is published by Orbit.
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