The ancient world of magic is no more. Its heroes are dead, its halls are ruins, and its great battles between Light and Dark are forgotten. Only the Stewards remember, and they keep their centuries-long vigil, sworn to protect humanity if the Dark King ever returns.
Sixteen-year-old dock boy Will is on the run, pursued by the men who killed his mother. When an old servant tells him of his destiny to fight beside the Stewards, Will is ushered into a world of magic, where he must train to play a vital role in the oncoming battle against the Dark.
As London is threatened by the Dark King’s return, the reborn heroes and villains of a long-forgotten war begin to draw battle lines. But as the young descendants of Light and Dark step into their destined roles, old allegiances, old enmities, and old flames are awakened. Will must stand with the last heroes of the Light to prevent the dark fate that destroyed their world from returning to destroy his own.
I finished this book one week ago and I never stopped thinking about it ever since. I wanted to write this review sooner, but I was left with a massive bundle of emotions and it took me some time to put everything together into what would sound like a coherent review.
It’s so difficult to talk about something you simply loved, and even now, the only word that comes to my mind when I think about Dark Rise is… PERFECTION. Yes, I am biased, I was already in love with C.S. Pacat’s writing (or torturing) style. However, Dark Rise really deserves all the praise.
Dark Rise tells you the story of Will, who works at the docks of an 1821 London. Whilst working around shipments, he is both trying to hide from and get more information about who is behind his mother’s brutal murder. He has been on the run ever since. One day he meets someone from the past, telling him about a past full of magic, or a Dark King threatening to return and endanger humanity. When Will is captured by the servants of the Dark King, he has to face the destiny that will bring him to play his part in this battle to stop the Dark King to rise again and save the present world. I don’t think my summary does justice to the whole plot of this story – I beg forgiveness. Let’s move on to the actual review.
One of the main reasons why I loved this story is because it takes place in London and in an area very close to where I live – if you check the map with the novel, I live right next to River Lea. It just makes this story so more special to me. Dark Rise is, in its entirety, a mixture of a series of traditional fantasy tropes. Good vs Evil, the chosen boy, light vs dark and so on. The execution is a masterpiece, it’s pure fantasy, supported by a good amount of historical fiction.
There is this lost magical world, with a Dark King, unicorns, stewards and magic artefacts, but you also have London during the peak of its industrial revolution and the rough life of the working class around the busy docklands area. The world-building is so fascinating, so intriguing and so magical. There were moments when the story had strong LOTR/Camelot vibes and the combination of magic world with the real world is such a marvellous thing.
The characters were absolutely fantastic as well and I found myself developing a strong attachment to all of them. The main character, Will, is the emblem of how everything in life is never simply black or white, good or evil. I initially brushed off James as the usual villain in possession of strong magic, but in the end, he is a character the will creep deep inside you and stay. All the remaining characters are strong and well developed, with their own background and arc. Pacat brings into this story a great mix of different backgrounds, so you will have a wide and genuine representation of gender/sexuality and race.
And to add the cherry on the top, you have a fast paced, action-packed plot, which was able to take me by surprise towards the end with unexpected plot twists and revelations. I felt so stupid I didn’t see it coming and magically, every action and every dialogue of the story takes a different meaning.
When I finished I literally hugged the book and I was sobbing. Because, hell yeah, this book is so fucking good. I needed this book in my life, for the villain in me. After so many disappointing reads this year, this book is a precious gem. Because it was everything I was expecting and so so so much more. Because even if C.S. Pacat stabbed me and re-stabbed me so many times while reading this story, I know that she built the ground for something absolutely bigger. Pacat is the queen of slow-super-super-slow-burn romance and I can’t wait to see where the story will go (but please don’t let me wait here hanging for years, my heart can’t take it).
This is absolutely my favourite read of this year, I am looking forward to re-reading it again and I think it’s time to re-read Captive Prince.