Welcome back to Fantasy Friday where you will find reviews of classic and new books!
Over Sea, Under Stone
This first volume of The Dark is Rising Sequence begins with the five-member Drew family’s arrival for a month-long vacation with an old professor friend of the father’s, affectionately called Great-Uncle Merry. “How old he was, nobody knew. ‘Old as the hills,’ Father said, and they felt, deep down, that this was probably right. There was something about Great-Uncle Merry that was like the hills, or the sea, or the sky; something ancient, but without age or end.”
It rains heavily the first full day in Cornwall, or Logres as Merry calls it by its Arthurian name. Bored out of their minds, the three children go treasure-hunting in the house Merry rented for them. Behind a wardrobe, they find a secret passage to an abandoned room. The youngest child, Barney, a keen admirer of the Arthurian legends, finds an ancient scroll that refers to the king and one of his knights, Mark.This happens to be just what some other people, and Merry himself, have sought long for. Indeed, burglars break in during the night to seek it, but they do not find it.
The police put it down to just hooligans, but the children believe otherwise. They tell Merry about their discovery. The man confirms its great value as part of Arthurian history and that Arthur did actually exist. He tells the children the truth about the man behind the legend and of the constant struggle between the forces of good and evil, of which Arthur was one of the strongest warriors during a dark and perilous time. He then informs them of the grave danger they are now in because of what they found with those of wicked intentions to gain it themselves so close behind.
The chase is on. Can Merry and the Drew children outrun their enemies and save this precious artifact?
The Dark is Rising
This second book has Will Stanton wishing for a snowstorm for his 11th birthday. Does he get it! And a lot more too. He and his older brother, James, note the strange behavior of frightened animals who seem to know something wicked this way comes. Will sees an old man from a distance. James thinks it’s just a tramp, but a neighboring farmer knows otherwise, “So the Walker is abroad. Ah. He would be.” Just as mysterious as these words is the curious birthday gift the farmer gives to Will: an iron circle quartered.
That night, Will is alone in his attic bedroom when a overwhelming fear grips him. He wakes the next morning to the sound of music and a landscape drenched in snow. But he does not wake in the same time period he feel asleep in. For whatever reason, he has entered a different one. He leaves home and walks along paths, familiar and strange at the same time. He encounters a blacksmith he knows and a mysterious horseman who waits while the smith shoes his animal. Twice the horseman tries to trap Will with words and once tries to grab him. Will’s wits rescue him from the first two instances, and the smith comes to his aid in the third. To Will’s own amazement, he says he is there to seek out the Walker, who he encounters shortly after leaving the smith.
The horseman finds him again, but this time a white horse rescues him. It leaps through a patch of blue sky to transport him to another land. There Will discovers two doors standing alone on a hill. He steps through them into a great hall and meet an old woman and a tall man, adversaries of the horseman. The tall man identifies himself as Merriman Lyon, the formal name of Great-Uncle Merry in the first book, Over Sea, Under Stone. He says he and the woman have awaited Will for a long time and reveal to him his special gift and destiny: he is an Old One, beings charged with finding six Signs of the Light to battle the Darkness as it again spreads through the world. Will has the first Sign already, which the horseman recognized, and which places the young boy in terrible peril.
Merriman returns Will to the present day without a moment lost. The dark forces arrayed against him have made their first assaults against him, and it only gets worse. This is much better than the first volume. Only Merriman repeats here, while all else is new and more exciting and dramatic. The vividness of the Dark and the battle against it are the best parts. Susan Cooper can write!
This third volume returns us to the Drew children and the theft of the Trewissick Grail they found at the end at the first book, Over Sea, Under Stone. How the priceless artifact was stolen from a museum baffles the police, as there is no evidence of a break-in. Merry confirms what the children suspect: the Dark took it. He asks them to come with him back to Cornwall during the Easter break.
As it happens, Will Stanton from the second book, The Dark is Rising, is also headed there with his Uncle Bill. None other than Merry picks them up at Will’s house, but neither give away the fact they already know each other. The Drew boys do not like Will, for how are they going to find the grail again if some other boy is always going to be with them?
The boys’ sister, Jane, accepts the nocturnal invitation to attend the annual, ladies-only, making of the Greenwitch, a tall figure made of leaves and branches, who the women then ask for whatever they wish. Only Jane feels the tremendous power in the figure – and its terrible loneliness. Her wish is for it to be happy. The leader of the event tells her this is a dangerous thing to request. The event ends in the morning with the figure cast off a cliff into the sea.
Will and Merry discuss the latest disguise a member of the Dark has taken: a painter who stole a picture Barney made and who also tried to break into the crowd around the Greenwitch just before it tumbled into the water. Simon and Barney follow Rufus the dog to the painter’s home. Barney finds not only his painting but the stolen grail.
Will and Merry launch a desperate search for the Greenwitch and what it possesses: the lost manuscript from the first book that would give the Dark terrible power if used in conjunction with the grail.
Will and Merry are not the only one who seek the Greenwitch. What is that painter doing out after dark? And what does Jane’s wish for the witch’s happiness have to do with it?
I did not like this book as much as the first two because it was not as interesting or exciting until towards the end.
The Grey King
The fourth volume begins with Will traveling to Wales to stay with a cousin of his mother’s, so he can recuperate from hepatitis. The young man is troubled because there is something important he forgot. On the way to the cousin’s home, he sees clouds around a mountaintop, which helps him remember one part of a prophecy spoken at the end of the third book, Greenwitch. The woman’s son, Rhys, says the clouds are the breath of the Grey King, a legendary figure whose home is there.
Another clue to the gap in Will’s memory is Cadfan’s Way. As he explores the church of St. Cadfan and searches for this lost road, he has a curious encounter with a dog. All his memories come back. He meets a boy, Bran, who knows his true identity as an Old One and who says he has awaited him. The Dark awaits him too. “All around, throughout the countryside, he [Will] could feel the malevolence of the Dark growing, pushing at him.”
But this time, the Light is not there merely to defend all from the devouring Dark. This time, it is actively on the attack against it.
This series is much more interesting when it focuses on Will, as this one does. I love through the series how descriptive the author is. It is no wonder these are classic fantasies.
Silver on the Tree
This final volume begins with Will and his brothers, James and Stephen, enjoying the rarity of a lazy, hot summer’s day together. Will thinks life cannot get better than this, but he soon realizes it is but a lull before the great and last battle against the Dark.
Brief visions come to Will from the past. He slips entirely out of his own time and arrives shortly before the battle of Badon in Arthurian times. There Will understands what his next quest is: retrieve the Six Signs of the Light, joined by Wayland Smith in the 20th century at the end of the second book. Wayland now labors long in the 5th century to make enough weapons for Arthur and his men for their great battle against the Dark. Will has only a night and a day to bring the Signs back from his own time and return them to Arthur.
Failure is not option. If Will does not succeed and call the Circle of the Light into battle, Merriam Lyon gives a grim vision of the future. “The High Magic which guards [the Signs] will take them outside Time, and the only advantage the Light holds in this great mater will be lost forever.” Whether Will succeeds or not, the coming battle against the Dark in his own will be terrible. Swept up into it are Bran and the Drew children.
This is an awesome series recommended for anyone who loves a great adventurous fantasy. Epic! I love the cover for the second book.
Have you read this series? What did you think?