I love faery stories, so I was very excited when I started reading Rise of the Darklings and realized that I had, in fact, just dived into a deliciously traditional faery story. This first book in The Invisible Order series, though aimed at fifth to eighth graders, is a deeply satisfying read even for adults, full of twists, turns, and lots of excitement.
Twelve-year-old Emily Snow has a tough life. She has scraped a living for herself and her younger brother William by selling watercress on the street ever since their parents disappeared, but their meager-yet-stable existence is threatened when Emily stumbles upon a battle between two fae factions. She quickly learns an important lesson: never trust a faery, and after William is kidnapped, Emily and her thief friend Quick-Heeled Jack must decide who to believe if they want to prevent a faery war that could destroy London.
Author Paul Crilley has created a fascinating world. Emily’s London is cold and dreary, the perfect setting for a story of abandoned children. The setting itself brings to mind Dickensian London, full of lost children and dirty fog, perfectly poised to split apart and reveal hidden worlds that existed long before humans gathered on the banks of the Thames. I was very impressed by Crilley’s parallel worlds, linked together only for those who have the sight–those who can see the fae.
The story takes a little time to really start rolling, but the deliberate pacing at the beginning enhances the feeling of impoverished desperation that Emily has to live with every day. When she stumbles across the faery battle in an abandoned alley, the sudden shift in pace–from slow and hopeless to quick and dangerous–jolts you out of the bleak world Crilley has created and pushes you into the strange world-between-the-worlds along with Emily. The descriptions of the fascinating faery places, from the Seelie Queen’s city within an enormous tree to the Landed Gentry’s–gnomes who desperately want to be like humans–village made of the detritus of human life, are gorgeous and immersive, as is the action. When Emily and Jack have to break into The Invisible Order’s headquarters–a human organization that may or may not want to eradicate the fae–I was on the edge of my seat.
Emily herself is a girl brave and intelligent beyond her twelve years. To a modern audience, the idea that a twelve year old could scrape a living to support herself and her brother is startling if not a bit unbelievable, but Crilley sets it well within Victorian London, and he writes Emily in such a way that you really believe she has been forced to grow up too quickly. She can take care of herself and watch out for others, but at the same time, she’s still a little girl who desperately wishes her parents would come back.
I thoroughly enjoyed Rise of the Darklings as an adult reader, and I think it would be just as satisfying to a young reader as well. It’s intelligently written along the lines of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and it is definitely engrossing. I can’t wait for the next book in the series… especially after the cliffhanger at the end of this one.