The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper

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The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Margaret Young
Reviewed by Margaret Young
Summary: A timeless story interweaving Arthurian legend and fantasy with a modern-day adventure story in epic battle between good and evil.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 800 Date: July 2001
Publisher: Puffin
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0140316889

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As a child, I read The Grey King, book 4 in Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising Sequence. I loved the book so much it topped my Christmas list for years, but sadly Santa never delivered. As an adult, I finally bought the entire sequence for myself. This book is intended as a child's book, and it is brilliant as book for children, but it is also well-loved by many adults, whether as a cherished memory of their own childhood or as a book discovered as an adult. I'll admit that as child, this can book can completely draw into other worlds in a manner not possible for an adult, but this is still an excellent read, whatever age you may be.

The Dark is Rising Sequence consists of five books in total which have been compiled into one larger edition. The first book in this sequence Over Sea, Under Stone was written in 1965, but the tales are timeless. The stories take place both in and out of time moving between what we see as the real world and a magical world of the Old Ones, whom I take to be the Sidhe although this is never specifically stated. Events separated by centuries can take place as one, but when the story is taking place in the present, there is little in the book to date the story. It could be taking place in 1965 when it was written, perhaps or in 2013 as I write this except for the notable absence of mobile phones and computers. There is nothing about this book that makes it feel old fashioned, or less relevant to a reader today.

The first book combines elements of the Famous Five with the Quest for the Holy Grail. The main characters are three children Jane, Simon and Barney Drew and their very mysterious Uncle Merry or Merriman. The forces are darkness are once again trying to take control of the world and the grail is essential to their plans. It is a race against time for the children to find the grail before the forces of evil and the youngest and most innocent of the children must play a key role. Merriman helps where he can, but this quest must be completed by the children. Merriman appears in each book, but always as a supporting character with the children taking centre stage. The second book, from which the sequence gets its name is The Dark Is Rising. An adult will have guessed Merriman's true identity in the first book, but in this book there is no doubt. Merriman is Merlin, the oldest of the Old Ones. At age 11 Will Stanton, the youngest and last of the Old Ones is about to discover his true heritage. Will and the Drew children will be brought together in the third book Green witch and again for the final battle in The Silver on the Tree. The Grey King remains my favourite of sequence with Will confronting the forces of evil with a very strange albino child named Bran in the mountains of Wales.

I don't normally read fantasy - I enjoy the old Celtic myths, but too few modern writers can really bring them to life for me. This series is an exception. The characters are especially well drawn, so well so that they stayed fresh in my mind for over thirty years after reading the Grey King. Susan Cooper expertly weaves a tale of magic and illusion that even as an adult is difficult to resist. These books have enough action and adventure for to satisfy the boys, and enough mystery to keep an older reader intrigued. Jane Drew is the perfect heroine for anyone looking for strong females characters making this book top of my list for parents who want a book that empowers girls. Barney has all the magic of a complete innocent, mirroring the purity and goodness of Sir Galahad in folklore. Simon is the logical one, and Will the perfect hero, not without fear, but overcoming fear to fight for the light. My favourite without a doubt will always be Bran - an outcast because he is different but his difference is more than skin deep and the fate of the world may rest on this child's shoulders. The books combine the heroic quests of folklore with the some troubles of modern childhood. I especially like the rhymes to be solved which also add an aura of another time to the story, and the moral aspect of the story of extremely strong. The series is drawn primarily from Celtic myths, but there are also some elements of Norse mythology, particularly in the Riders, and the Wild Hunt myth is common to many Western European countries.

This book has nothing to make it unsuitable for very young readers, but the reading level is fairly advanced and the print small. I would recommend this book for confident readers of all ages, and as a read aloud to story to children who enjoy Arthurian legends and children's mystery stories from perhaps age 6 - 7. Because some young children are put off by very large thick books, and because I believe the text is larger in the single editions, they might represent a better choice for a younger reader who is just starting to move into YA type books.

If this book appeals then you might also enjoy:

Quicksilver by Sam Osman

Tomorrow's Guardian by Richard Denning

Sentinel by Joshua Winning

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Buy The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper at


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