My Favorite Bit: C.S. Pacat Talks About DARK RISE

C.S. Pacat is joining us today to talk about her novel, Dark Rise. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Sixteen-year-old dock boy Will is on the run, pursued by the men who killed his mother. Then an old servant tells him of his destiny to fight beside the Stewards, who have sworn to protect humanity if the Dark King ever returns. Will is thrust into a world of magic, where he starts training for a vital role in the oncoming battle against the Dark.

As London is threatened and old enmities are awakened, Will must stand with the last heroes of the Light to prevent the fate that destroyed their world from returning to destroy his own.

Like V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic and Shelby Mahurin’s Serpent & DoveDark Rise is more than just high intrigue fantasy—it’s fast-paced, action-packed, and completely surprising. Readers will love exploring the rich setting of nineteenth-century London. This thrilling story of friendship, deception, loyalty, and betrayal is sure to find a passionate audience of readers.

What’s C.S. Pacat’s favorite bit?


“I have hunted the unicorn chiefly in libraries,” was a phrase from Odell Shepard’s The Lore of the Unicorn that seized my imagination while I was researching Dark Rise. It also contained this arresting description of the unicorn horn. “A long, straight wand of ivory. A twisted spear. One can imagine that it has been taken in powerful hands and wrung, as one wrings a wet cloth.”

In Dark Rise the heroes and villains of a long-dead magical world begin to be reborn. I was fascinated by idea of relics from that lost world, objects that might have survived and that could be unearthed in archeological finds. The idea of a unicorn horn as a relic was too powerful to ignore. It intersected too disturbingly and too well with the ivory trade of the 1800s, the period the book is set in. Ivory was already about trading in the parts of extinct or endangered beasts. As Virginia Woolf notes in one of her essays in The London Scene, “Mammoth ivory tends to warp; thus if you buy a looking glass not of the finest quality it is likely you are buying the tusk of a brute that roamed through Asian forests before England was an island.”

“You know what that thing does?” said James.

Will said, half quoting Devon, “If you hold it in your hands, you’ll be compelled to speak the truth.”

James laughed when he heard that. “Hold it? Is that what they told you? You have to do more than hold it. You have to stab me with it.” 

Of the many miraculous attributes of the unicorn horn, its truth telling properties seemed to me to have the most narrative potential. But as with its supposed ability to cure poison, most of the writings about horns as a truth serum involved grinding them up to use as powder. I thought, how much more interesting if you have to stab someone with the horn to force them to tell the truth?

Thus, the first idea for the scene was born – Will would stab James with the horn – and the horn itself had a name, the Horn of Truth.

Was he really going to do this? Hold James down and spear him with a horn?

“Don’t puncture anything important,” Will heard James say as he came forward, his voice mocking.

Once I had the horn, the idea of the scene arrived in my mind almost fully formed. Will would stab James with the horn and force him to tell the truth. A stabbing felt like an apt metaphor for forcing a way inside. After all, getting the truth from someone is a way of getting inside them, into their innermost room, where they keep what they don’t want anyone else to see.

There’s a sexual component as well. The unicorn horn has always been a kind of phallic symbol. Though the unicorn is a symbol of purity, attracted to virgins, its role in art as a symbol of Christ never seemed to be as strong as its headlong devotion to beautiful women. This gave the scene a dangerous undercurrent that fit Will and James, and their history that the reader will learn throughout the course of the story.

I love writing interrogations, there’s gamesmanship and powerplay. I wanted the truth forced from James, but also for James to use the truth to hurt his interrogators. I liked the reversal, and the idea that the truth is a dangerous weapon, that once you unleash it, you might not like what you hear. The scene ends with the High Janissary shouting at Will to pull the horn out, because James’s truth is too terrible to hear.

Finally, the scene is built as one half of two scenes. It’s a very public interrogation, but it’s followed by a private moment between James and Will. And it’s in private that they share a first real truth between them, and find their first real connection. I liked the idea that when forced into their public roles, they cause destruction, but in private they can find themselves behaving differently, and building something new between them. The ability to grow beyond your destined role is a key element of their relationship, and of the Dark Rise story.


Dark Rise Universal Book Link





C.S. Pacat is the bestselling author of the Captive Prince trilogy, and the graphic novel series Fence. Find more about her at

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