Dark Rise

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Dark Rise Book Poster Image
Almost no one to root for in cruel, mature fantasy world.

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Did we miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Some details on a dock worker's life in London in 1821.

Positive Messages

Sacrifice and duty. Good vs. evil, and unfortunately evil seems to be winning.

Positive Role Models

Will starts out as one of the heroes but betrays, uses, and lies to his friends in the end. He does perform one solidly decent act: He refuses to have control and power over another person when it's offered to him. Violet proves herself to the good side and shows bravery and commitment to her cause.

Diverse Representations

Violet is half-Indian, half-British and not constrained by gender roles of the time. She trains to be a fighter. The other main character, Will, is bisexual. There are other gay and bisexual characters, but they're all portrayed as villains who toss around sado-masochistic sexual innuendo.

Violence

Lots of deaths in skirmishes with swords, guns, magical creatures, and magical objects. More good characters than villains die, and after the reader has gotten to know them. Gory parts, including a stabbing with a horn, bodies torn open, magic lifting riders out of horse saddles and breaking bones, men rotting from the inside out, men chained up and tortured, another man branded, and the preparation of a mass grave. The main character relives the trauma of his mother's murder. Talk of a young man imprisoned by an older man in the past and forced into a sexual relationship.

Sex

A kiss between a man and woman. Gay sado-masochistic innuendo among the villains in a few scenes and some intimate touching: a man slides palms up another man's thighs, a man takes off another man's shirt while he's tied up. Mention of catamites (boys kept by a pederast) and one man referred to as a "plaything" of another.

Language

One "damn."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Talk of dock workers sharing pipes and liquor and collecting cigarette butts to resell as pipe filler. Whiskey drinking by adults.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Dark Rise is a violent historical fantasy set in 1821 London. It's the first book for young adults by Australian author C. S. Pecat, who identifies as queer and uses both she/her and he/him pronouns. (We will use she/her pronouns here.) Her fantasy books for adults focus on bisexual characters, and this one does as well, though many of the bisexual characters in Dark Rise are the villains, while many of the protagonists take a vow of celibacy. You'll also find some mature sexual content including gay sado-masochistic innuendo among the villains in a few scenes and some intimate touching -- a man slides his palms up another man's thighs, a man takes off another man's shirt while he's tied up. The violence gets fairly gory with bodies torn open, torture, and stabbings. Many of the protagonists that the reader gets to know die violently and are thrown in a mass grave. The main character relives the trauma of his mother's murder, and there's talk of a young man imprisoned by an older man in the past and forced into a sexual relationship. There's some whiskey drinking by adults, and dock workers share pipes and liquor. Most characters here are not worth rooting for except for maybe Violet. She's half-Indian, half-British and rejects the gender expectations of the era by learning how to fight.

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What's the story?

In DARK RISE, Will was on the run with his mother his whole life, not knowing why, not even after she was killed and he was working on the docks in London trying not to get noticed. But men did notice him, and his mother's old servant barely got him a message before he was caught. The message was that he would find refuge with a group called the Stewards in the moors. Will thought it was all for nothing, though. He would never get to safety after he was chained up in the hull of a ship. Then strangely dressed soldiers with swords instead of guns came for him: the Stewards. With their help and the help of a girl named Violet meant to guard him he made his escape while the ship sank. With zombie-like riders in hot pursuit, Will finds what he's looking for: a gate on the moors. On the other side is something he never imagined: a whole secret society trained to save the world from dark forces. According to the elder Steward, Will is the person they've been waiting for for centuries.

Is it any good?

This mature fantasy shows that solid world building can't make up for characters who aren't worth rooting for. Well, there may be one: Violet. She's a brave warrior woman and finds a cause to fight for after she's betrayed by her whole family. If she stays the course, here's hoping things turn out for her. Everyone else, eh. Will is not a well-developed character at first, and then his motivations are confusing, and then he betrays his friends and a woman who falls for him and lies to everyone, including the reader. Any other characters worth spending time with are slaughtered en masse or dropped for long periods of time from the story. One intriguing character who's dropped and suddenly returns starts to garner sympathy until the stabbing starts.

Dark Rise has other glaring problems as well. That solid world building is mostly crammed into the time when Will reaches the Stewards' fortress and it slows the story down. In big moments of turmoil people and objects that are vitally important go missing or are forgotten until the last minute, which is sure to stupefy the reader. Why didn't they search for James right away? How on earth could Violet forget about the shield? Also, there's a tone set in Dark Rise in a few scenes that combines sexual innuendo and desire with violence. It's something else that may push many readers further away. It's hard to say if the author will gather the young adult fan base she desires in future Dark Rise installments.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what roles gender and sexuality play in Dark Rise. How does Violet defy the gender roles of the time? How do the Stewards? Why do you think a queer-identifying author made so many of the villains bisexual?

  • There's a lot of death here, and more of the good characters die than the villains. Did it affect your enjoyment of the story?

  • What do you think is next for the main characters? Will you keep reading this series?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy and LGBTQ stories

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