The Dark City: Relic Master, Book 1

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
The Dark City: Relic Master, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Thrilling debut to fantasy series is low on violence.

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Kids say

age 11+
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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The book talks a lot about how the people on the planet Anara were created -- through Makers and God -- and how the Order communicated with the Makers, and the Makers with God. It may inspire readers to look up creation myths of past civilizations like the Aztecs or the Egyptians, and compare myths.

Positive Messages

The end goal is to save the world from evil forces. Bravery, cunning, trust, hope, and a rather spiritual kind of magic are all part of the journey. Also, the magic practiced by the Order has a profound respect for nature.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Despite some rough treatment from Galen, the Relic Master, Raffi is still very loyal and understanding. He follows Galen into danger even when he thinks Galen is being reckless. Galen takes his overwhelming feeling of loss when his magic disappears and channels it into something positive in the end. Carys is a soldier and a spy with refreshingly little attention paid to her gender -- she even feels sorry for Raffi because he's not as brave as she is in dangerous situations.


Throughout, Galen and Raffi are pursued by soldiers called the Watch. They are kidnapped and Galen is chained. Some scary beasts attack and are shot with arrows, and seeds flying through the air burn skin. Galen and Raffi ward off unknown evils with magic. Discussion of an explosion that broke Galen's leg and stripped him of his magic, plus much sadness over the decimation of most members of the Order by the Watch years before.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this young adult fantasy novel is the first in a series of four. For a fantasy book set in a dark and dangerous world, the violence is very light, though danger always lurks and there are plenty of references past killings. Some flying animals are attacked and are shot with arrows in the Dark City, and the main characters get kidnapped. For the most part, characters are admirable, exhibiting loyalty and bravery, though the Relic Master can be a little hard on his scholar (and is called on it more than once). Also, Carys is a female character who plays a soldier and a spy with refreshingly little attention paid to her gender -- she even feels sorry for Raffi because he's not as brave as she is in dangerous situations.

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Teen, 14 years old Written bynoveleater August 21, 2011

Wonderful Series Beginner.

I have always been a fan of this author (Incarceron, Sappique) and this one shows Fisher's fantastic talent in new and wonderful ways. The story itself is... Continue reading

What's the story?

Galen is a magical scholar called a Relic Master. He and his pupil Raffi live like fugitives in the wilds of the planet Anara. If they're found by the Watch, they'll be taken in and eliminated like the rest of the disbanded Order who once followed the long-absent Makers. Instead, they are discovered by a horseman who claims one of the Makers' relics needs their attention. But this is a trap set by bandits who force them to retrieve gold from the ruined "Dark City" of Tasceron. Galen agrees to go, but for his own reasons. His magic was lost to him months before in an explosion. Powerful forces are said to live deep within the dangerous decimated city that may be able to help him -- and save the whole ailing planet.

Is it any good?

This is definitely more than fluffy filler with a cliffhanger. In an intriguing marketing idea that's intended to hook teen readers, this book is the first in a series that will be released over a very short period of time -- one book per month over the summer of 2011. Happily, the book is worthy of readers' attention with or without the special "hook." THE DARK CITY offers solid fantasy storytelling, keeping up a quick pace while meticulously revealing the magical world of Anara, one mysterious piece at a time. The author's thoughtful characters are also a big draw. Both sensitive Raffi and Carys, the questioning spy, make the series well worth following.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the marketing behind these books. Does it build up momentum for the series to release books a month at a time? Does it make you want to read them right when they come out?

  • For fantasy fans, what other books and movies does this one remind you of? Readers may see hints of The Lord of the Rings and The Dark Crystal for starters. Also, how is the magic of the Order different from the magic in series like Harry Potter, Septimus Heap, or The Abhorsen?

Book details

  • Author: Catherine Fisher
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Book type: Fiction
  • Publisher: Dial Books
  • Publication date: May 17, 2011
  • Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 17
  • Number of pages: 384
  • Last updated: June 19, 2019

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