THE FADING DUSK is a Young Adult steampunk fantasy novel taking place in a world where magic, gods, and more are real but it feels largely like the 19th century. The story is set in the titular city of Dusk where a series of Jack the Ripper-esque murders are occurring. 17-year-old Irina is the beautiful assistant of a street magician named Bantheir who emotionally and financially abuses her while maintaining her love through a manipulative sociopathic personality. Irina "loves" her boss but we know he's a dirtbag from the beginning. But is he a murderer?
That's the question which is raised when Irina ends up arrested for the murders afflicting Dusk and being dragged off to prison for interrogation. As perhaps befitting a YA romance, Irina soon finds herself the object of adoration of at least two of her captors who struggle to find a way to get her free before she is punished for the crimes of her master. Irina, by contrast, is determined to find some way to prove Bantheir innocent despite him giving her no reason to believe in it.
This is an entertaining piece of fiction from start to fiction that, while not without flaws, is one of the better ones I've read in the SPFBO so far. Irina is a likable enough heroine and while she's not exactly very proactive in her actions, she's never annoying either. You can understand why people want to be befriend her and why others are sympathetic to her despite the pile of evidence accumulating against her master.
It's a very easy tool in an author's arsenal to make use of the "Cinderella" motif, where a young woman has an absolutely garbage life and someone offers her the chance to get out of it. In this case, Irina escaped starvation with the help of Bantheir but he's still a pretty awful person. We want her to succeed in getting away from him and forging a new life. The fact she has an inherently interesting job as a magician's assistant (and is a magician in her own right) works wonders.
I was fond of Captain Leonid as Irina's alternate as he is a character who nicely reflects the other ups and downs of Dusk's pseudo-Victorian society. He's a bastard but this still provides him some position and respect in their society even as he's also someone who has been looked down on his entire life. He has a nice Darcy-esque gruffness that you can tell is going to infuriate our heroine while also make her gradually fall for him. I actually liked the character of Aden more but that attitude rather abruptly and permanently changed halfway through the book.
The character of Bantheir is a bit one-dimensional and doesn't get any more developed as the story goes. I would have appreciated a bit more development for such a central figure in Irina's life but he's really just a dirtbag. It's hard to imagine she managed to keep her pleasant idealistic worldview with this grease ball as her primary influence.
The pseudo-Victorian society of Dusk is well-developed and the choice to set it on a different world than Earth worked for me because any of the oddiities for their society are just a result of not being Earth. Still, I would have appreciated a few more British-isms for the reality like having a Prime Minister instead of a President and a monarch. I also think the book spent far too much time with Irina in prison with well over a third of the book being about her locked up in a cell and regularly interrogated.
In conclusion, this was a fun book and I have no real complaints about it. Irina is a great character even if a bit naive. The book is slow to get started but I barely noticed because the characters were entertaining throughout.