Monday, February 23, 2015

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: OVER SEA, UNDER STONE by Susan Cooper


Sometimes it's nice to revisit a classic, folks--or in my case to visit it for the first time. Can you believe I have never read this? I mean, it was published 50 years ago (in 1965), so is a bare two years younger than me! And it's not as if I wasn't a major fantasy mini mafioso, either. One of my favorite books from childhood was Ursula LeGuin's A Wizard of Earthsea (which I can affirm is just as good when read many decades later.)

So who knows what went wrong? However, I kept seeing The Dark Is Rising sequence in lists put out by other authors when asked about childhood favorites. So it seemed about time for the Don and me to give it a go.

What It's About (description from Amazon): 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. 
This is the first volume of Susan Cooper's brilliant and absorbing fantasy sequence known as The Dark Is Rising. 

Opening Lines: "Where is he?" Barney hopped from one foot to the other as he clambered down from the train, peering in vain through the white-faced crowds flooding eagerly to the St. Austell ticket barrier. "Oh, I can't see him. Is he there?"

Why I Liked It:

1): It was very English. (And, as such, it brought me back to my youth.) The way the children speak is exceedingly dated, but none the worse for that--although I do wonder what a modern child would think. I was reacquainted with words like "swizz" and "rucksack."
2): We get into the action straightaway--and there is plenty of action. The children, at a loose end, start exploring the house and find an ancient map. Chases by land and by sea follow, as well as a kidnapping.
3): The parents are alive (thank goodness, I have middle grade orphan fatigue!), but are conveniently shunted out of the way so that the children can fend for themselves. 
4): Hints of Arthurian legend. I have decided, what with my love of Dianne Salerni's The Eighth Day series, that I am a bit of an Arthurian legend buff. Hey, I might even write a book about it myself, one of these days.[Interestingly, both Cooper and Salerni are brilliant at chase scenes.]

I will definitely read on in the sequence. The Dark Is Rising is next!

About the Author:

Susan Cooper is the author of the classic five-book sequence The Dark is Rising, which won a Newbery Medal, a Newbery Honor Award, and two Carnegie Honor Awards. Born in England, she was a reporter and feature writer for the London Sunday Times before coming to live in the United States. Her writing includes books for children and adults, a Broadway play, films, and Emmy-nominated screenplays. Her most recent books for children are King of Shadows and Victory, and for adults a portrait of Revels founder Jack Langstaff called The Magic Maker. In 2012, Susan was given the Margaret A. Edwards Award and in 2013 she received the World Fantasy Award for life achievement. Her children’s novel Ghost Hawk was published in 2013. Susan lives and writes in Marshfield, Massachusetts.

Susan Cooper has a nice-looking website, and a Facebook fan page.

Have a great week reading and writing, everyone! Ciao!


  1. I read the first book in this series in audio version and really liked it. But I never went further. You'll have to let us know if it's good.

  2. Yeah, I haven't read this one either (pause while I hold my head in shame). I will though add it to my list and catch up with the rest of the world. Thanks for the review.

  3. So interesting! I haven't read any of the Dark is Rising series, but I do hear about it from time to time. Sounds like I'm missing something great. I better get on that!

  4. So happy to hear you finally read one of my favorite MG books of all time! In fact, I adore the whole sequence (although some of the later books get a bit weird). This one is my personal favorite of the five, but my older son, the reader, swears Dark is Rising is the best kids' fantasy book ever. Hands down. Can't wait to hear what you think of that one.

  5. Not being a fantasy reader, I've never read this or any of the books in the series, but my grandson might like it. Thanks for the review.

  6. The Dark is Rising made me jump! I didn't read these until about 10 years ago, but enjoyed them. Hard sell to all but the most ardent fantasy fans now, though. It's just the age of Harriet the Spy... And me!

  7. I've never read them either, but just from this review, I see I need to change that. I love fantasy set in England, and the Arthurian legend piece is intriguing. Thanks for featuring this!

  8. Sounds like there's a lot to like about this book. I laughed out loud at your phrase "middle grade orphan fatigue". The over representation of orphans in fiction is one of my pet peeves!


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