Title: The Dark Is Rising (Boxed Set)
Author: Susan Cooper
Release Date: 1965
Genre: Teen/YA, Fantasy
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 out of 5
I’m often asked what my favorite children’s/YA fantasy books are, and without a doubt, it’s Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series. The series features multiple main characters, including the three Drew children, Will Stanton, and Professor Merriman Lyon, and are about the epic struggle between the forces of Light and Dark. The books contain a heavy amount of symbolism and draw from local Welsh, English and Celtic legends, including Arthurian lore. They are complicated, such that reading them as an adult is just as enjoyable (if not more) than reading them as a child.
I used to reread The Dark Is Rising series every year because of their complexity; every time I read them, I felt like I discovered something new. I haven’t read them in a few years, but decided to go ahead and read them again now, and write a short review of each book. I certainly hope this review inspires you to pick up this amazing series!
Over Sea, Under Stone
This is the first book of The Dark Is Rising series, and the most basic. It’s about three children named Simon, Jane, and Barney who go on a grail quest, under the direction of their family friend, Merriman Lyon. A lot of the themes of the rest of the series are introduced here – the connection to King Arthur and the battle between the Light and the Dark. There are some elements of the fantastical in this book as well, but generally speaking, it’s less a part of the series than any of the other books. If the mythology that is hinted at in this book piques your curiosity, you will definitely enjoy the rest of the novels. It’s a great introduction to the series as a whole.
The Dark Is Rising
The Dark Is Rising introduces the character of Will Stanton, the only character besides Merriman to appear in books 2-5. It also expands liberally on the mythology of the series. We get a much deeper background of both the workings of the Light and the Dark, and magic begins to take a center stage. Additionally, old myths and legends work their way into this book, as they do into all the subsequent novels. There isn’t much on King Arthur in this particular book, but he begins to play a much larger role later on in the series.
In my opinion, Greenwitch is the strangest of all the books in the series, though Silver on the Tree could give it a run for its money. It’s the only one of the books that doesn’t focus on a quest for a Thing of Power (though it’s about the retrieval of a previously discovered Thing of Power that has since been stolen – and no, I’m not going to explain what a Thing of Power is). It’s also about a type of magic called Wild Magic, and the book reflects that in a lot of ways. It’s more emotional and more unpredictable, moving in directions you would have never predicted. It’s also the shortest of the 5 books. It has a special place in my heart, though, because this is where Simon, Jane and Barney meet Will for the first time.
The Grey King
The Grey King is definitely my favorite book in The Dark Is Rising series, and I’m sure there are many that share my opinion. After all, this book won a Newbery Medal! The Grey King is a little more grown up – this is Will’s first quest on his own, without the patient (and sometimes not-so-patient) guidance of Merriman, and there is real sacrifice in this book. I also love that the nature of the Light is discussed in this book. In the end, the Light is as ruthless as the Dark when it comes to using people for its own ends. Yes, the Light is fighting for good and righteousness, yet they can be cruel and unforgiving. It’s an interesting thing to contemplate, even as an adult.
The Grey King also introduces my favorite character in the series, Bran. He’s quite a mystery. It’s hard to believe that this book is only a little bit longer than Greenwitch, as so much happens in this book. It’s a lot more adult with more philosophical questions than the first three books and really sets the stage for the last book in the series, Silver on the Tree.
Silver on the Tree
Silver on the Tree is the book that ties all the rest together. I believe it’s also the longest, for good reason – a lot happens in this book! Each character really seems to come into their own, developing confidence in their judgment and abilities. It’s definitely a satisfying ending to The Dark Is Rising series, although of course it left me wanting more.