Cover Image: Maya and the Rising Dark

Maya and the Rising Dark

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Member Reviews

This cover is so fantastic! I love the great girl power image it evokes!! And then the pages inside provide an exciting story for late elementary students. South Side of Chicago, West African traditions, adventure, mythology - what's not to like? Strong appeal for fans of Percy Jackson books who want a female central character.
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Maya and the Rising Dark, first in a new middle-grade series by Rena Barron (Kingdom of Souls, gives us Maya, a middle-grade student living on the South Side of Chicago, who starts noticing some odd things in her classroom and gym at her school. She and her friends Eli and Frankie also encounter the neighborhood's bullies, who just aren't acting like themselves. Soon enough they are caught in the dark with some pretty scary werehyenas and have to be rescued by... the twin old ladies who live down the block. Wait a minute, what?! Her papa has long been telling her stories about all kinds of strange creatures from the world of the Orishas. She thought they were just stories but now they are showing up in Chicago? How does her father know about these creatures and why is he away for work all the time?

Maya and the Rising Dark is a great fit for a child who's loved the Aru Shah series. Similar in vein, mixing action and humor, with a hidden world filled with Yoruban spirits, this is a story with a rich underpinning of African and Latin American magic, sure to delight middle-grade readers. I enjoyed the roles of friendship and community in this book. It takes a village to keep children safe, to rescue a father, and to defend the world.

The audiobook, narrated by Soneela Nankani, who narrates the Aru Shah books, is highly enjoyable and complete with amusing sound effects.


I received a digital review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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MAYA AND THE RISING DARK was a delight. I thoroughly enjoyed Maya and her friends, their fabulous adventure, and the wonderful world building.

Maya appears like any other young girl until she is the only one who sees weird things happening at school and around the neighbourhood. Things that remind her of the Orisha legends her dad had told her as well as her favourite comics. Obviously those could not be true. Or could they?

When her dad disappears she learns how true they are. With the help of her friends Frankie and Eli she embarks on a dangerous quest (I LOVE QUEST STORIES;)) to save him.

I loved Maya, Eli, and Frankie. Maya has kick-ass moves with a staff, Eli knows everything there is to know about weird occurrences, and Frankie is a science genius. Their care and love for each other shines across the pages as does their need to help and support each other. Maya is the lead character, but Eli and Frankie’s powers and observations are also essential for them to continue their quest.

The quest was filled with adventure, action, mysteries, and the kids learning more about their powers. The villain, the Lord of Shadows, was a great antagonist with powers not easy to overcome. The final battle had me on the edge of my seat and I wasn’t quite sure how things would end.

Rena Barron wrote a lovely Author’s note how Maya’s story was an opportunity for her to explore her West African ancestry. It really resonated and I look forward for many other stories by this wonderful author that allow me to learn more about her world through her eyes.

MAYA AND THE RISING DARK reminded me of how much I enjoy reading middle grade novels. If you are looking for a fast-paced adventure mixed with magical creatures and a young girl coming into her powers this is the book for you.
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I am so glad this book did not disappoint me. I loved that the magic and folklore could be explained in some ways with science and that it was explained in a way that was easy to understand. Loved the anime/comic-con references. I will say that the ending felt too easy and a little flat, but after everything that lead up that point, it makes sense. It also seems to be setting up for more books which explains why it feels like there should be more. I don't mind or think that that's a dealbreaker since the book was such an engaging and interesting reading experience.
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Maya and the Rising Dark is a perfect pick for fans of the Percy Jackson. What I particularly enjoyed about Maya's story was that it was really an adventure for the whole family - Maya's parents were open, loving, and involved in their child's new, magical world.
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This book was fantastic. It was a perfect read for any one, especially younger kids, who love mythology and adventures. I love that it wasn't the same Greek Mythology rehashed, but rather a rich and interesting and new to me world of African mythology. 

The characters were great. Maya was funny and fierce and totally relatable, and her friends were equally well written. 

She is the type of hero all middle school kids want to be. I've already ordered multiple copies to share with my family and friends!
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Maya and the Rising Dark is a fantastical adventure based in African Mythology. Maya has always loved her dad’s stories of the Orishas and other magical creatures, but she never thought for a minute that they might all be real. So, she’s in for a big surprise when the Lord of Shadows starts appearing in her dreams and hinting at her father’s true identity—he is the guardian of the veil, the only thing keeping the Darkbringers from overwhelming the world of light. Turns out, her whole neighborhood is a haven for magical mythological (or so she thought) beings. When Maya’s dad is kidnapped, she and her two best friends take it upon themselves to do something about it. They find themselves in an alternate dark world full of danger, and discover their own abilities just when they need them most! One of my favorite aspects of this book is the tight-knit community that Maya lives in—it’s a positive portrayal of Chicago neighborhoods that you don’t get often. This book will definitely appeal to fans of Riordan’s books, many of whom would probably be introduced to a mythology they didn’t know much about. Plus, the trio of heroes are easy to relate to. This is a super fun read for the middle grade crowd!

***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review purposes. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
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Maya finds that the world is not quite as she thought she knew, and the stories she’s been told are more than just stories. When her father disappears into the Dark, she and her friends are determined to save him.

This is an exciting fantasy with strong, caring characters. Looking forward to the next book!
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a copy in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.


I’ve been looking forward to this book since it was announced waaaaay back last year. Patience may be a virtue, but it’s clearly not in my arsenal of tools, okay? So I was super excited to be able to read this eARC.

Maya and the Rising Dark is a middle grade fantasy adventure perfect for readers who want Rick Riordan-esque books with a Black twist. Complete with a Black female lead, and based on West African mythology, this book packs in friendship bonds, adventure, and some awesome staff + magic fight scenes.

Ultimately, this book delivered on the promise of adventure and fun, and I whizzed right through it. I loved that it plays with the God/Godling tropes that have become popular lately but with a unique spin on it. I thought the climax ended up being a little easy, but I have that problem a lot with middle grade books, so it’s probably just me, the silly thing I am.

My Thoughts:

- This world is based on West African mythology and the Orisha pantheon, and I love it! As diverse books sink their claws into the publishing world, I’ve been sitting here twiddling my thumbs just waiting for more books about Orisha and West African lore, and I am so here for these books! When I say this book brings West African mythology to life … I mean it. Literally. The Orisha exist as characters, and they are fabulous. Not all creatures in West African mythology are nice, though, and our intrepid little heroes run into plenty of those, too!

- This book is chock full of adventure and quests, which naturally test the mettle (and friendship) of Maya and her friends. Hint: being friends with someone on a big quest to save the world is hard. Also hard: trying not to root for this trio. They’re all at an age where friendships are hard in general, but it was refreshing to see them tackling the challenge together, even if they sometimes had disagreements and bumps in the road. The adventure itself takes us to new places, like the Dark world on the other side of the veil. The plot moved at a pretty good pace, slowing down sometimes but always keeping me engaged and wanting to find out what happens next.

- Maya’s weapon of choice is a staff, and the fight scenes include staff-wielding, magic-wielding, and just all-around awesomeness. First, can I just say how refreshing it is to see a character not using, like, a sword or a knife or something? I like shiny stabby things as much as the next person, but there’s something unique and satisfying about fighting with a staff. Then, when you add magic into the fight scenes? They’re just *chef’s kiss* Because the Orisha are characters in this book (and they all, of course, have powers), there’s a lot of dynamic, fun fight scenes that include some really impressive shows of power. I loved seeing the characters fighting together, especially since they all have different styles of fighting and different powers. I don’t want to say too much, but I’ll leave you with this: these were some of my favorite fight scenes I’ve read in a mid-grade book recently!

- The villain was defeated a tad easily, but I did so enjoy his villainy, and I’m not entirely convinced we’ve seen the last of him. At least, I sure hope we haven’t. You know when you stumble across a villain so bad that you can’t help but love him? Yup, this is it. More importantly, the villain totally has a justified grievance. My all-time favorite villains are ones that I can feel their anger and understand their justification, because they feel much more real and rounded, and that is definitely the case here. Also, the scenes about him just really gave me chills, in a good “I don’t wanna meet this guy in a dark alley” sort of a way. Everything you’d want in a villain, and I’m not entirely ready to give him up yet.
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The next of my middle-grade Halloween reads was another book that has been getting a lot of attention in the middle-grade reading community. Maya and the Rising Dark by Rena Barron is based on West African mythology and the native religion of the Yoruba people.

Twelve-year-old Maya is an ordinary girl who attends middle school in Chicago and is obsessed with a comic book series starring Oya, a Wonder Woman style character rooted in the legends of the Orishas, spiritual beings who take on human form to guide and protect humanity. Maya’s Papa travels regularly for work and always returns bearing stories of the wondrous creatures he has seen and fought off in his travels; werehyenas, impundulu, and kishi among them. Maya has grown out of believing these tales until the day when time freezes and all the color briefly drains from the world. From that point on, she begins to see these magical and dangerous creatures herself as they break into her world through strange, otherworldly cracks that lead to a realm known as The Dark.

As the danger increases, Maya learns that almost no one in her South Side community is who she first thought, including her two best friends Frankie and Eli, and even her own parents. When her Papa is kidnapped and taken into The Dark by The Lord of Shadows who is hellbent on revenge for an ancient wrong, Maya and her friends realize they are the only ones who can rescue him and set off on an adventure of their own.

Maya and the Rising Dark is a stunning book that introduced me to a whole new mythological world I had never heard of before. The story reminded me in many ways of Rick Riordan’s tales, marrying a young, modern-day Chosen One plotline with traditional myths and religious beliefs, and there was also a touch of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods – although naturally written in a far more young-reader friendly tone! Maya is a wonderful character who I instantly rooted for and her personal journey didn’t feel cliched the way many Chosen One narratives can. 

I wished I had known going into this story that it was the first in a series as that would have slightly altered my perception of the plotting, however, on discovering this near the end, I was delighted to know there will be more from this series; the sequel – Maya and the Return of the Godlings – will be released in June 2021. I hope we will learn more about the various orisha characters and their communities across the globe and I’m curious to see how the story continues and whether Maya and her friends can prevent an all-out war between our world and The Dark.
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So if you were living in a family of guardians of the veil, how would you want to find out? Would it be sitting in math class when your teacher seems to be paused in time? Is it if a demonic shadow lord shows up in your dreams and seems to suck all the color from the world? Would a pack of were-hyenas attack you and your bestie as you walk your neighborhood on the south side of Chicago? NO? Neither did Maya, but that's exactly the way she found out she was daughter to guardian of the veil.  And the color sucking guy? He's Papa's arch nemesis and he's out to destroy all that Papa protects.  Quite a lot to take, especially when you're 12.

Barron's adventure is action from the jump as Maya and friends, Frankie and Eli, find themselves in scrape after scrape with all these beings Maya grew up hearing about in her Papa's "fairy tales".  Maya and her friends have to discover their own gifts in order to help the ancient powers that have long looked after human kind, after Papa is taken into the Dark.

As a mother, I love the strong female characters presented in the story.  As a teacher, I love that my students will be able to see themselves in these characters.  As a human, I love that Barron has shared her gift with the world.
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Loved, loved, loved, Maya and the Rising Dark!
It's an incredible start to a fantasy adventure that fans of A Wrinkle in Time, Percy Jackson, and the original Oz adventures will adore.
The action, the lore, Maya herself, her friends & family- all the elements are perfection!
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Going into this book I had no idea what to expect. I’m that reader that judges books by their covers and I very rarely read synopsis before I pick up a book. I mean just look at the cover! This cover jumped out at me for multiple reasons. First, there is a black girl on the cover with dreads holding a staff ready for whatever comes her way. Even as I’m typing this my 5 year old (who is supposed to be focusing on her ABCs with her teacher 🤦🏽‍♀️) just said “Mommy are we going  read that book about a girl who looks like me fighting monsters?”   She’s not ready for this book of course but trust me, it will be in her mini library when she is ready. 

I’m giving this book a 3.5 out of 5. I loved the representation for little black girls and the loving relationship with a dad who is gone a lot for work. That tugged on my heartstrings because I remember my dad almost always being at work when I was a kid and now I am watching my daughter go through the same. She is an entirely different person when her daddy is home on his off day. Just like Maya in this book. She lights up when her dad comes home. So you can imagine that when her dad goes missing, that she is going to do everything she can (and definitely shouldn’t) to get him back. 

This book introduced me to Orishas and I cannot wait to read more about them. I’m going to have some fun researching. I live for fantasy books and the magic in this book did not disappoint. If you have a young reader who wishes for a little more magic in their every day life, this is for them.
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This was a good book and it laid down a solid backstory to start the series.  I enjoyed the god-like characters that the author created and I am excited to read the next book to see what happens next with Maya and the Lord of Shadows.

Thank you NetGalley for the ARC.
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"But to me, math was about as interesting as watching paint dry, which was actually a thing I had to do for art class once."

When I read this sentence, I KNEW I would end up loving this book! I could relate to Maya on a whole new level!

Maya and the Rising Dark follows Maya Janine Abeola, a 12-year-old comic nerd from the Chicago South Side who is living a normal life, until things start going topsy-turvy. She starts seeing out-of-the-ordinary things like black lightning, weird dreams and even encounters a pack of werehyenas before she finds out she is a godling! Yes, you heard it right! She is half-god and half-human (much like the Greek demigods)!

When you have a badass heroine, you definitely need a villain! When the Lord of Shadows kidnaps Maya’s father, she sets outs on a journey with her two best friends, Frankie and Eli, and encounters a ton of creatures and has a whirlwind of adventures in the Dark, which is a parallel plane that coexists with the human plane! If you want to get a better idea, think of Upside Down from Stranger Things!

This is a high-stakes, action-packed, nail-biting #ownvoices contemporary fantasy with an all-brown cast, richly steeped in West African Folklore that is bound to keep you on the edge of your seat! Believe me when I say this, THERE IS NOT A SINGLE DULL MOMENT IN THIS BOOK! The story draws you in from the very first page, doesn’t drop you off in between and leaves you craving for more!

I have read quite a few middle grade contemporary fantasies inspired by various mythologies but this was a first for me! I have always wanted to discover more about West African mythology and folklore, and Maya and the Rising Dark helped me with just that! This book is teeming with magical abilities, orishas, darkbringers, aziza and many more characters from West African folklore that you will remember long after you have flipped the last page!

AND OH MY GOD. THIS BOOK IS SO FULL OF EMOTIONS. The relationship between Maya and her father was outright one of the BEST father-daughter relationships I have come across in Middle Grade! Maya’s father, who happens to be the Keeper of the Veil that separates our world from the Dark, trains Maya with the staff! He is honestly such a gem and their dynamic made me all jelly! GIVE ME MORE OF THIS IN BOOK TWO PLEASE.

 I had a MAJOR déjà vu moment while reading this book! Maya, being a comic nerd, is super excited for her very first Comic Con! This took me right back to 2012 when I was super excited for MY first Comic Con! Honestly, Rena hit me with all the feels in this book!

"Every kid should be so lucky to have friends who believe in you even when you don’t believe in yourself. Friends who accept you exactly the way you are and help you be brave when you didn’t know that you could."

Friendship plays a pivotal role in this book. This book paints in bold letters that there is POWER AND MAGIC IN FRIENDSHIP. Maya’s two besties, Frankie and Eli, embark on the journey with Maya and stay by her side right up to the end! Frankie is a science geek and Eli is a paranormal buff and their bickering throughout the book had me giggling! Frankie’s science talk reminded me of the seventh-grade me, haha!

This book is not only full of BIPOC characters, there is casual LGBTQ+ representation as well. What better way to normalise LGBTQ+ people than include them in Middle Grade books and instill the right thoughts in the minds of the younger generation of readers? Maya’s school principal Ollie in non-binary and Frankie has two moms! Yay for queer rep!

THIS BOOK IS SUPER IMPORTANT IN THE PRESENT DAY SITUATION. This book is a gift to all the brown kids out there who felt at any point that they aren’t enough. Well, YOU ARE. This book highlights the African-American community in a super-positive sense and I want ALL MIDDLE SCHOOLERS to read this book! I really wish I had books like these back in middle school! A book with a brown heroine and full of brown characters? Count me in ANY DAY! This book is so full of warmth and joy. Rena has managed to capture the right emotions of family, friendship and most importantly, community! Maya’s locality is full of BIPOC families and these brown kids have my entire heart!

I would give this book super-shiny, super-sparkly, super-glittery 4.5 stars!

Phew! This review turned out longer than expected! If you are reading this, thank you so much for staying with me until the end. I hope I have motivated you enough to pick up this book! So, what are you waiting for?
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Full of two of my favorite things — Black people and magic — Maya and the Rising Dark by Rena Barron offers its reader a journey that is just as much based in finding the majesty in South Side Chicago as there is in the realm of gods. In this story, we follow 12 year-old protagonist, Maya Janine Abeola as she uncovers the secret world her father is part of and later threatens their lives.

Maya is a strong willed, staff-combat-training middle schooler who is often left to entertain herself as her mother works late shifts and her father is frequently away on work trips. Luckily for her, her father often returns with tales about his journeys wherein he encounters fantastical beings like werehyenas and is almost eaten by elokos. His stories tie into the “Oya: Warrior Goddess” comic series Maya loves and add a twist to what Maya imagines to be a boring career as a structural engineer. But as the world shifts around her, Maya notices that some of these myths may be true — and more worryingly — that some of the scariest beings she’s ever heard of may be hunting her friends and family.

Bringing her observations of strange lightning-like cracks in the sky and shadows that clutch you in the dark to her best friends, Frankie and Eli, Maya hopes for scientific and paranormal reasoning from them, as is their brand, respectively. However, all it takes is one night in the dark, shadowing Maya’s strange neighbors, for Frankie and Maya to run directly into the clutches of real werehyenas — and the manifestation of powerful abilities — for both of these rationales to be completely blown off. To make matters worse, soon after this encounter, Maya’s father goes missing and she finds that it’s up to her to retrieve him. Hashing a plan with Frankie and Eli based on some clues that Maya has gathered, they set off on a journey that leads them directly into the hands of some of the most powerful beings that they’ve hardly ever heard of who will test them in ways they’ve never considered.


Full of two of my favorite things — Black people and magic — Maya and the Rising Dark by Rena Barron offers its reader a journey that is just as much based in finding the majesty in South Side Chicago as there is in the realm of gods. In this story, we follow 12 year-old protagonist, Maya Janine Abeola as she uncovers the secret world her father is part of and later threatens their lives.


Maya is a strong willed, staff-combat-training middle schooler who is often left to entertain herself as her mother works late shifts and her father is frequently away on work trips. Luckily for her, her father often returns with tales about his journeys wherein he encounters fantastical beings like werehyenas and is almost eaten by elokos. His stories tie into the “Oya: Warrior Goddess” comic series Maya loves and add a twist to what Maya imagines to be a boring career as a structural engineer. But as the world shifts around her, Maya notices that some of these myths may be true — and more worryingly — that some of the scariest beings she’s ever heard of may be hunting her friends and family.

Bringing her observations of strange lightning-like cracks in the sky and shadows that clutch you in the dark to her best friends, Frankie and Eli, Maya hopes for scientific and paranormal reasoning from them, as is their brand, respectively. However, all it takes is one night in the dark, shadowing Maya’s strange neighbors, for Frankie and Maya to run directly into the clutches of real werehyenas — and the manifestation of powerful abilities — for both of these rationales to be completely blown off. To make matters worse, soon after this encounter, Maya’s father goes missing and she finds that it’s up to her to retrieve him. Hashing a plan with Frankie and Eli based on some clues that Maya has gathered, they set off on a journey that leads them directly into the hands of some of the most powerful beings that they’ve hardly ever heard of who will test them in ways they’ve never considered.

A middle grade urban fantasy with twists and turns that keep you turning the page, Maya and the Rising Dark is a story that I could easily see becoming a classic to be read and reread by young and older readers alike. Maya, Frankie, and Eli are a trio whose friendship rivals some of the best friend groups I’ve ever read in fantasy, as each person is fully considerate of the others’ strengths and areas that need extra support and provide this reinforcement artfully. We get to see each character in this trio come into their own and learn more about their true identities and the ways of the universe that build up their community as well as themselves. In Maya and the Rising Dark, author Rena Barron has framed legacy as striking and engaging as it is of the moment. The treasure that lies in its pages is something you should share with young readers as early as you can — I sure did.
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This is a Rick Riordan presents book and the formula is loud and clear-a regular girl suddenly finds she has magical powers and she and her friends have to fight evil beings to save the world.  I thought it was fine-exciting chase scenes, scary monsters, relatable characters, but I didn't recognize any of the mythical beings that are mentioned in the book.  Because of that, it was hard to connect to the book.  I finished it but I probably won't buy it for my library.  There are other series that I prefer.
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I was excited to get my hands on an early copy of MAYA AND THE RISING DARK, the first in a contemporary fantasy series set on Chicago's South Side. The book starts off ominously when Maya witnesses the color bleed from the world one day at school. Later that night, she's visited in her dreams by a man made of shadows who threatens to end her life.

Before Maya can figure out what's going on--or reveal the troubling events to her parents, the world turns upside down as werehyenas invade her close-knit neighborhood and the Orishas from her favorite comics come to life. When her Papa goes missing, it's up to Maya to venture into the Dark, the realm of the Lord of Shadows, and bring him back before the veil between this world and the Dark fails.

I loved Maya's spunky personality and courageous spirit, as well as the loyalty and good humor of her two best friends, Frankie and Eli. The entire cast of characters is vibrant and well-developed. Miss Ida and Miss Lucille were particular favorites. The story is spooky without ever feeling too scary, and the West African-inspired mythology is fresh and creative. I look forward to seeing where the series goes from here!
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Maya and the Rising Dark is a fast paced, highly imaginative and much needed addition to the MG fantasy canon. Maya thought she lived an ordinary life in an ordinary neighborhood. But then strange things start happening and she discovers the truth about her father, her neighbors, her friends, and herself. They’re all Gods and Godlings, charged with saving the world from The Lord  of the Shadows. 
Threads of right and wrong are woven tightly throughout the story as Maya grapples with the survival vs harming others- your enemy to be exact. 
Themes of friendship, community and discovering your inner power are well explored, making this book the beginning of an exciting series
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12-year old Maya in contemporary fantasy seek answers to her missing father that lead her and her firends into another world she knows little about. In the process, she discovers her determination and strength to fight evil powers for her community and heritage.
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