The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper

The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper
The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper

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This is the second book in The Dark Is Rising Sequence, confusingly also called The Dark Is Rising and is all part of my The Dark Is Rising Read-a-thon.

In this book we leave the Drew siblings, who found the Holy Grail in Over Sea Under Stone, and we join Will Stanton, the seventh son of a seventh son the day before his eleventh birthday. His birthday is the 21st December, Midwinter’s Day, and when he wakes he finds a deep blanket of snow. He also finds that he has left the modern world and outside is the world as it was centuries before.

He goes on to meet Merriman Lyon, one of the Old Ones of the Light, pitched in an eternal battle with the Dark. Merriman tells Will that he is the Sign Seeker, an Old One, with a special role to play. Will has to collect the six signs, which will make the ring of power, required to help defeat the Dark.

The book is incredibly atmospheric, with Will travelling backwards and forwards through time as the Dark pile on ever more destruction in the modern day. There is never ending snow, bitter cold, and then floods. The village in which Will lives in is set in the Thames valley, and the descriptions are stunning, as is the plotting. The whole story slowly builds momentum until the Dark unleashes the peak of its power on the twelfth night and Will truly starts to understand what being an Old One means.

It all sounds quite full on, and it is, but lovely family scenes break the tension as the Stanton family prepare for Christmas. Seeing Will go from being an ordinary eleven year old boy to an Old One with ancient knowledge is wonderful, and your heart will be in your mouth as he finally faces The Dark. 

PS. Don’t judge the book by the film, which was a travesty. 

Over Sea Under Stone by Susan Cooper

I am, as I write this, knee deep in The Dark Is Rising Read-a-thon, and frankly I am having a whale of a time. Today’s post is a review of the first book in the series, Over Sea Under Stone. The book which turned me into a reader. Regular visitors to this blog will know that this book has a special place in my heart. I have read it multiple times, and each time I get as much joy as I did the first time I read it. My childhood copy is now so battered it wouldn’t hold up to another read, so I read the beautiful Folio Society editions The Delightful Mr F bought for me.

Over Sea Under Stone is set in the fictional Cornish fishing village of Trewissick. Here we meet Simon, Jane and Barney Drew, siblings on holiday with their family, and most importantly, their Great-Uncle Merry. On a rainy day the three children explore Grey House, rented for the summer by their parents. They come across an ancient manuscript detailing a map to the hiding place of King Arthur’s grail. Very quickly they realise they are in danger as some very nasty people are after the map too. Confiding in their Great-Uncle they learn about the eternal battle between the Light and the Dark and the importance of the grail in that struggle and how their Great Uncle has also been looking for the map.  With the help of Merry, they set out to solve the clues and find the grail.

I particularly like the Drew family in this book. In most children’s literature the author has to dispense with the adults in order for the children to have an adventure, or the adults are utterly vile. In this, the Drew family are very normal. Mum and Dad are kind and fair, and Cooper didn’t have to bump them off to free up Simon, Jane and Barney to treasure hunt. The whole development of the plot takes place inside the normal confines of life for the children, which makes it feel very plausible.

The whole story is one of contrasts. On the one hand we have a beautiful English fishing village, in the height of a glorious summer, and on the other we have a real feeling of fear, claustrophobia and darkness all around. Susan Cooper is adept and weaving these two things together, the heat of the day beating down, whilst the proximity of the Dark crushing the children with the weight of its presence.  Reading the final few chapters in bed, in the dark, with Storm Desmond raging outside, made the whole thing distinctly unnerving, and I remember as a child reading those chapters and realising for the first time that some people appear nice, but are actually very unpleasant indeed.  This is such a wonderful book, written with real subtly. Long before Harry, Ron and Hermione hunted Horcruxes, the Drews were looking for the holy grail, and dare I say it? I think I will, for all of JK Rowling’s wonderful plotting and clever word play, Cooper’s world is far more menacing and hence rewarding, because  it is easy to believe that one summer’s day you too could find a treasure map.

The Dark Is Rising Readathon – Preparations Are Afoot!

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I posted about this a few weeks back after I signed up, and the 2015 The Dark Is Rising Readathon is nearly upon us.

Regular visitors to the blog will know that these books, by Susan Cooper, helped turn me into a bookworm. I read Under Sea Over Stone under the duvet with a torch provided by my Grandad. I was captivated.

The story, told across five books, details the eternal battle between light and dark, weaving in Arthurian legends, British folklore and mythology in an adventure which is thrilling, thought provoking and powerful.

Ostensibly written for older children and young adults, these books can be enjoyed by everyone. Susan Cooper is an enormously talented writer, and as I have said before, a good story is a good story.

The Readathon kicks off on the 1st December 2015, and I will be taking part and blogging my way through it. I have decided that my childhood copies won’t stand another read, they are far too fragile now, so I am going to read my Folio Society editions which The Delightful Mr F bought me.

There is a nice little community of folks reading together, with a group on Facebook, and a website. Why not register and join in?

The reading order is as follows:

  1. Over Sea, Under Stone
  2. The Dark Is Rising
  3. The Greenwitch
  4. The Grey King
  5. Silver On The Tree

Hope to see you there!