C.S. Pacat's "Dark Rise" Is a Taut, Captivating Fantasy Worth Every Ounce of the Hype

An orphaned hero plucked out of obscurity. A rising evil that only he can stop. A magical world hidden beneath our own. These elements might sound familiar, but crack open C.S. Pacat’s Dark Rise (out Sept. 28) and you’ll realize you’ve never seen them done like this before.

In this first book of a planned YA trilogy, would-be hero Will is 16 years old and working as a dock boy in 19th century London, secretly on the run from the mysterious men who murdered his mother. Then an old servant reappears with a cryptic message: something evil is rising in the world. Will must find a group called the Stewards, or else “darkness will come for us all.”

Suddenly, Will is ripped from the world he knew in a series of stunning revelations. Magic once was real, he learns, but it died along with the rest of the old world in a catastrophic battle between the forces of light and darkness. All that remains are the Stewards, an ancient order of knight-like guardians who keep watch over the world should the Dark King ever return . . . and all signs show that he’s coming, and fast.

Will learns he might be the missing piece, the only one who can defeat the Dark King, but the magic the Stewards swear is inside of him remains locked up tight, and time is running out. Stewards are dying while the Dark King’s descendant, the shadowy Simon Creen, clears the way for his return. Figures from the ancient past are reborn in terrifying new forms. And Will’s new friend Violet is caught between the two worlds: she’s a student of the Stewards, but they don’t know that her family is one of Simon’s staunchest allies.

No matter how hard Will, Violet, and the Stewards fight it, there are chilling signs that history is set to repeat itself. That sense of dark, looming destiny courses through the novel, building to a stunning twist of a climax that will make your stomach drop. Pacat specializes in these kinds of revelations that alter, in retrospect, every scene that came before them, and sudden twists lurk throughout Dark Rise to keep the plot plunging forward and the brave, determined characters in thrall to their dark fates.

The battle lines are drawn: it’s destiny versus free will, good versus evil, but the boundaries between are much blurrier than they seem. Pacat, who made her name with the sharp and sensuous Captive Prince series, has filled the tightly woven plot with sly, clever dialogue, sure-handed world building, and relationships sparking with tension, dark fascination, and — oh yes — forbidden chemistry, straight and queer. It all coalesces in a final scene and masterful last line that will echo in your head for days afterward, a fitting finale to a book of tragic heroes, slickly subverted fantasy tropes, and crumbling magic. When familiar heroes falter, who is left to fight? This dazzling dark fantasy dares us to find out.

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