So British, you can’t open the book unless the kettle is on – Cannonball Read #4 & 5

The Grey King & Silver on the Tree from The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper. Young Adult Fantasy, heavy on the folklore.

The Dark is Rising sequence is the story of four children, the three Drew children – Barney, Jane, & Simon, and Will Stanton. Will is important because he is an Old One, a member of a race of beings who have magical powers and can move through time. The Drew children are important precisely because they are not magical beings. They are ordinary human children.

The sequence is five books long: Over Sea, Under Stone, The Dark is Rising, Greenwitch, The Grey King, and Silver on the Tree. The Dark, the great, terrible, evil force immemorial is rising for its last great attempt to take over the fate of the entire world. The Light, consisting of the Old Ones and their allies, are preparing to combat the Dark, gathering allies and artifacts that are prophesied to give them victory.

In The Grey King, Will Stanton is in Wales, attempting to wake the six riders, while being prevented by the will and machinations of The Grey King – a great spirit of the Dark encamped inside of a great Welsh mountain. Silver on the Tree is the last book in the series and relates the final great clash between Light and Dark. The author makes a small effort to be stand alone novels but they really depend heavily on the previous three books for context and background. The Grey King does include a lesson in the pronunciation of Welsh. Cooper sets her novels in actual places in Britain. This is the only thing I didn’t like from this book. The grammar dump in the middle of the action was boring and I didn’t pay attention. I read the names as I chose as I had no need to say them to anyone else. It would have been better off as an appendix.

Silver on the Tree was action packed from the word go and really makes no sense at all if you haven’t read the other books. Many familiar faces from the previous four books show up and most of the narrative threads are tied up, if not neatly or nicely, at least finally.  It is nice that Cooper didn’t feel the need to explain every tiny little detail, that’s boring and it steals the magic from a story when every tiny piece of it gets an encyclopedia entry in the final book. The low point was the denouement. It is very preachy for a couple of pages and the author could have stood to be a bit more subtle. The end is highly reminiscent of Tolkien, although without quite as deep a bittersweetness.

The tale is simple, Light vs. Dark for the fate of the world. All plot aspects aside, it reads as a love letter from a PhD in mythology to the folklore of the British Isles; Hern the Hunter, King Arthur, the burial at Sutton Hoo. the seventh son of a seventh son, etc. Every aspect of the story is rooted deep in British tradition. As a bit of a Britophile I was enchanted. Susan Cooper was not exactly subtle in suggesting the various origins of characters and lands in the books but she didn’t bash the reader over the head with it. Given that the book is aimed at the YA crowd, and the British YA crowd of the 1960’s at that, it is a taster, something to excite the memory of a familiar story and enthusiasm for revisiting them.

I highly recommend these books to people who read greek myths & Dragonlance novels as teenagers. They will read like someone you just met who is somehow already an old friend.


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