A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Some details on a dock worker's life in London in 1821.
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.
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.
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Violence & Scariness
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.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
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.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Talk of dock workers sharing pipes and liquor and collecting cigarette butts to resell as pipe filler. Whiskey drinking by adults.
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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.
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.
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.