by Margot De Klerk
Genre: Science Fiction / Dystopia
Print Length: 360 pages
Reviewed by Steph Huddleston | Content warnings: sexual assault, sexual abuse
A gritty dystopian with romantic elements and strong series potential
The post-apocalyptic town of Bale Rocks is at the mercy of fueding gangs. For ex-dancer, now waitress, Harley, her priority is ensuring the survival of her and her sister. She’ll do what it takes, even if it means flirting with and informing on the gang members who frequent the bar.
Being judged by those she cares about most is the price she must pay. But as danger increases and a newcomer, James Maddock, begins stirring up trouble, Harley finds herself questioning how long she can hold onto her principles before she breaks.
The worldbuilding within Rise is strong and quickly establishes the power dynamics in Bale Rocks. Women are among the most vulnerable in the society, from the outset the story demonstrates that this is a harsh world where the threat of sexual abuse in particular looms large.
“Having a tattoo made you a man. It was a mark of honour. It was the same for women, except for one crucial difference: having tattoos as a woman sent a message. I am not owned by men.”
Harley has weaponized her femininity in order to survive in this world, flirting for her own gain and to distract those who might otherwise harm her. Readers see the personal cost this has for her. She regularly feels conflicted and commodified, even as she attempts to establish herself separate from the gangs so insistent on keeping her in the fold.
Harley is an entertaining character with sharp wit, excellent dialogue, and a thirst to prove she doesn’t need the protection of others. She is self-reliant to a fault. As the story progresses, we get a sense that despite her gruff exterior she has a gentler soul than her world allows, if her passion for dance is anything to go by.
The most compelling connection she has in the book is with Bas, the one man in the Iron Fists who seems unaffected by her charms. This poses a rewarding challenge for both Harley and readers, as we see her chip away at his defenses and an unlikely friendship begins to form.
“The best way to control a man is to become his fantasy. Figure out what he wants and give it to him. If you control his fantasy, you control him. Words to live by.”
Rise’s prose is engaging with varied, flawed characters and an easy to visualize world. The pacing of the book does feel slow at times, with most days in the story following a similar pattern. It’s unclear for a prolonged period exactly what conflict James Maddock’s arrival in town has caused, so it can feel slow-moving in the midst of it.
The biggest relationship of significance explored in the book is that of Harley and her sister Savannah. However, Savanah is the main proponent of the unfair judgement Harley experiences, so she’s a bit difficult to emotionally invest in or for readers to understand why Harley sacrifices so much for a sister who holds her in such contempt.
With a futuristic world as palpable as this, there’s plenty of untapped potential for this story to be explored and elevated. Harley is a great lead character who you’ll be glad to follow into the next installment.
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