Author: Susan Cooper
Genre: Adventure, fantasy, Arthurian
This is the first in Cooper’s fan-favourite The Dark is Rising Sequence, although it was originally intended as a standalone and was written some years before the four that eventually followed it.
From the blurb:
On holiday in Cornwall, the three Drew children discover an ancient map in the attic of the house that they are staying in. They know immediately that it is special. It is even more than that – the key to finding a grail, a source of power to fight the forces of evil known as the Dark. And in searching for it themselves, the Drews put their very lives in peril.
It’d been a while since I read this book (the last time was in 2008 or so) and oh my goodness, I think I’d forgotten how good it is. Others in the Sequence may be stronger when all five are taken as a whole but this story is perfectly good on its own too. On this re-read – probably only my third ever of this book – I gained a (perhaps) renewed sense of appreciation for this story and I was able to rediscover the depth of detail in it. The descriptions of some of the moments the three children experience, particularly a scene when one of them is being chased by an unfriendly figure and the scenes near and at the end of the quest, really stood out to me.
I can also really relate to one of the children, an Arthurian legends enthusiast, much more now than I think I’d have been able to earlier. The Arthurian legends are a somewhat recent discovery as items of interest, delight, and (a bit of) scholarship for me – in fact, it’s about as recent as the last time I read this book! :D That might be one reason I found I liked it so much this time, but I know it’s not the defining one.
All the characters in this are great, whether they’re our heroes and their allies or the story’s main antagonists. On the side of the ‘good guys’, we really get to see the complexities of each of the three children’s personalities, and while their parents only get brief mention one does get a ‘sense’ of what they’re like. I like Mr. Drew, who comes across as a person with quite a sense of humour, and I also like the detail that Mrs. Drew knows her daughter well enough to realize she’ll be happy to wander around on her own after declining to go with the boys and Mr. Drew on a trip one morning.
Other fascinating characters who are the children’s allies include their mysterious ‘Great-uncle’ Merry and their holiday pet, a dog called Rufus. Merry serves as their guide and confidant in this story, sort of an Obi-Wan figure to their Luke Skywalker, and Rufus proves to be a valuable companion as well.
The antagonists are also portrayed well. More are introduced as the story progresses, and they start becoming more effective as the days in-story pass, so by the last chapter they’re quite creepy.
I recommend this as a fun children’s adventure with some intriguing dark parts mixed with the lighter fare. It’s also a great set-up for the rest of the Sequence, but it can be enjoyed just as well alone.