Darkness Brutal: The Dark Cycle, Book 1

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Darkness Brutal:  The Dark Cycle, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Demons lurk in drawn-out, angsty fantasy.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Parts of Biblical verses and other ancient texts quoted. How to place a mezuzah correctly and Hebrew blessing for mezuzahs given. Brief Babylonian history of King Darius and Daniel.

Positive Messages

Foster care means drugs, gangs, beatings, and people with fetishes. Everything is held together by time. Everyone has a role to play, and when you stray from yours you get others in trouble. To grow, eventually you have to confront what you've always run away from.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Aidan is fiercely loyal to and protective of his little sister, and he'll confront his worst fears and the darkest demons to save her. Despite a strong attraction, he knows he shouldn't get romantically involved with someone who feels indebted to him. Both Aidan and his sister, Ava, keep secrets from each other that cause harm. Love interest Kara refuses to use her supernatural powers to take advantage of others. She determines to help Aidan confront great evil despite the risk of harming herself. Sid, the adult who takes the teens into his home, is enigmatic and doesn't tell the whole truth, but he's a good caretaker and genuinely cares about the kids in his charge.


Lurking demons are creepy and gross. Fights, both with fantasy creatures and people, include blows and kicks described along with resulting pain and injury, such as bones crunching or characters being knocked out. Blood is frequently mentioned but not described in detail. Dismembered bodies mentioned. Past traumatic event in which a woman's heart is torn out revisited several times. Three men contemplate gang rape of a nearly unconscious young woman. Slicing flesh with knife described several times. Heroes frequently in peril.


Older teens kiss several times. Prep-school sex party mentioned. Mention of angels and demons having sex with humans and that human women sometimes bargain for favors with sex. Two or three make-out sessions mention taking off clothes, seeing a teen in bra and underwear, reaching into pants, and allusion to an erection.


Strong language is frequent and includes "s--t" and variations, "ass," "f--k" and variations, "dumbass," "nasty-ass," "assholes," "bitch," "bastard," "pissy," "dick," "butt," "prick," "hell," and "crap." Occasional name-calling includes "lezzy-boy," "freak," "slut," and "whore." 


Snack foods, clothing brands, car makes, and a few technology products mentioned to establish location, character, or mood.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Mention that teen partygoers raid their parent's medicine cabinets for prescription drugs that are contributed to a bowl freely available at the party. A bong is mentioned once. Hero supernaturally senses drugs and alcohol at a party. Jack and Coke mentioned once. A nightclub is a setting and a front for an antiquities trader who helps the hero. A teen girl at the nightclub is passed out and saved from a gang rape. Later she vomits and wakes up hungover. Hero Kara smokes once.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Darkness Brutal is the first volume in a planned urban fantasy series set in modern-day Los Angeles. There's a lot of darkness with creepy, evil demons lurking and crossing into our dimension. Fantasy and reality-based violence includes fights with descriptions of blows, pain, and injuries such as bones crunching. Blood is mentioned frequently but described without much detail. Older teens kiss and make out a few times. A gang rape of an unconscious teen is contemplated and stopped before it starts. Recreational drug use among teens is mentioned, but none of the characters takes drugs or alcohol. The hero, Kara, smokes once. Strong language includes frequent use of "f--k," "s--t," "ass," and variations of each.

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What's the story?

Every three years, demons come from their dimension and try to take 17-year-old Aidan's younger sister, Ava, back with them. So far the siblings have been successful at fending the demons off, but it's always at a great cost to the innocent people around them at the time. Now Ava's 12th birthday is fast approaching, and Aidan is desperate to find a way to protect her against another onslaught. Aidan realizes that the only way to save her may be to learn the truth once and for all about their mother's death, something he's been running away from since it happened. The more Aidan learns about the past, the more he realizes that the fate of world hangs in the balance between his and Ava's choices between the DARKNESS BRUTAL and the light.

Is it any good?

The demons are deliciously creepy, and the supporting cast colorful, in this brooding urban fantasy for teens who love exploring the dark side. But too many plot points are unconvincingly solved by convenience. Hero Aidan spends too much time wringing his hands, especially in the too-slow middle.

Author Rachel A. Marks effectively weaves events from the past into the narrative and creates believable, relatable teen characters grappling with the mysteries of their own supernatural abilities as they come of age. One of the main characters' fate is left hanging, but it's fair play as part of a series cliffhanger; otherwise the ending satisfies. Fantasy lovers will enjoy this solid genre piece.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why fantasies are so popular. Why are we drawn to them?

  • This is the first book in a planned series. Did the ending satisfy you? What do you think will happen in the next book?

  • Aidan tries to protect his sister, Ava, by hiding the truth about their mother. Would things have been different if he'd told her the truth from the start, or was the end inevitable?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy

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