Dark Rise by C.S. Pacat

Title: Dark Rise

Series: Dark Rise #1

Author: C.S. Pacat

Genre: YA Fantasy

Year: 2021

Will Kempen has been running for as long as he can remember, even before his mother was killed. Now, trying to blend with the masses in the dirty docks of London, he is shocked when an old servant tells him that he will never be truly safe unless he finds the ancient order of the Stewards, men and women of exceptional martial prowess sworn to protect humanity from the Dark King if he ever rises again.

But even as Will he trains with them in what looks like a safe haven, the battle between Light and Dark looms closer than ever, and if they can’t stop it before it starts, the Dark King will destroy the world as they know it – just as he almost did once already.

A closer look

Oh, where to start? I went into this book with fairly high expectations – a chosen one, a battle between Light and Dark and, knowing the author, a very slow-burn romance somewhere in there as well. What could go wrong?

The plot is fairly basic: the protagonist is running away from people who want to kill him even if he doesn’t know why; somehow he runs into the good guys and is swept to a safe place where he begins to learn that not all is as it seems, magic is real, and so is the Dark King who is trying to rise again.

We mostly follow Will: his mother has been killed sometimes in the close past after running for as long as he can remember, and now he is working in the docks of London and trying to keep a low profile. Early on in the story he is captured by the enemy and freed by a young woman named Violet.

Violet is the second main character of the novel: she ends up joining Will and helping him in his search for the Stewards, while worrying about her family who apparently is working for the villain – and she is afraid that helping Will has barred her from ever going back to them.
By the way, this all happens in the first few chapters, so no spoilers here.

There is also Katherine, who has like… three POV chapters in total, maybe? Her story overlaps with some of the main players of the novel, but she has little to no weight in the story itself until closer to the ending.

Will was without doubt the most interesting of the three in the beginning. We find out that he has ties to the Stewards, that he might be able to use magic, he is in possession of an ancient medallion and has some kind of visions.
Of course, as in every school-inspired setting, the best pupil of the Stewards doesn’t believe Will is what everyone else think he is and dislikes him from the start.
I liked Will well enough as a character, but at times I felt like I didn’t really have an insight into his mind and I was just following him around. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it made him feel detached from whatever was happening around him and, consequently, it made me feel detached from the story.

Violet, on the other hand, spends the beginning of the novel pining over her family relationships – which is understandable given her situation – but it comes off as a bit repetitive after a while. Her story picks up in later chapters, and at some point she became the one with the most interesting plot – at least she was actually doing something and she had some kind of character arc.

As for Katherine, I really don’t have much to say. She is a minor character and, even though she has a significant role at the end of the story, I don’t think her POV really added much. If anything, she came off as very naïve and whiny.

I realise now that I haven’t spoken about the villain yet, and the reason is that he doesn’t appear very much, and the little we see of him is not that interesting. He wants to bring back the Dark King and destroy the Stewards and he wants Will dead for reasons.
James, one of his minions, might actually be one of my favourite characters, even though he doesn’t have nearly enough time on page.

Sometimes after the middle of the story, I admit I was growing a bit restless with the plot. It felt like nothing was happening and people just kept hanging around, waiting for something or other to happen. However, I had read in a few reviews that the ending was a succession of plot twists, unpredictable, the best thing ever, so I kept going. I was still mildly interested, even though I kept feeling a weird detachment from the story.
The prime example of this is the death of a few characters during a battle. I just didn’t care. The book tried very hard to convince me that I should feel something, that everything was very tragic, that the protagonists lost people who were very important to them. The problem is that I never felt like they were attached to any of the victims, so it all came off as very melodramatic. In my early notes I wrote that the story “feels fake at times”. I didn’t elaborate on that, so take it as you will.

Fast-forward to the ending. The plot twists were there; a couple of things could be guessed early if you were paying attention, but some of the twists were really good. I was pleasantly surprised.
And then I thought about them and what they meant for everything that had happened before, and I became upset.
That was why I felt like I wasn’t really in Will’s head all that time – because the author was hiding things purposefully, and not in a subtle way. And while it answered a few questions, it also made me wonder about a few details that, given the ending, didn’t quite make sense. Are they plot holes, or will everything be explained satisfactorily in the sequels? I guess we will see.

So, final thoughts: the story was a bit underwhelming and hard to connect to; the world building is kind of vague on the details, but there is time for expansion in the sequels; the writing was just okay, with some things repeated ad nauseam and some important bits of information left out just so it could be surprising when it was revealed.
The sexual tension was good though, even though I anticipate a lot of angst in the next book.

In general, I think the idea of the story was good, and I liked parts of it, but the execution was a bit lacklustre in some aspects. I will be reading the next book anyway, but with considerably lower expectations.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

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