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Will is the last-born of the Old Ones, immortals dedicated to saving the world from the forces of evil. And now it is Will's task to wake--with the golden harp--the six who must be roused from their long slumber in the Welsh hills to prepare for the last battle between the Dark and the Light.

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First published January 1, 1975

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About the author

Susan Cooper

121 books2,213 followers
Susan Cooper's latest book is the YA novel "Ghost Hawk" (2013)

Susan Cooper was born in 1935, and grew up in England's Buckinghamshire, an area that was green countryside then but has since become part of Greater London. As a child, she loved to read, as did her younger brother, who also became a writer. After attending Oxford, where she became the first woman to ever edit that university's newspaper, Cooper worked as a reporter and feature writer for London's Sunday Times; her first boss was James Bond creator Ian Fleming.

Cooper wrote her first book for young readers in response to a publishing house competition; "Over Sea, Under Stone" would later form the basis for her critically acclaimed five-book fantasy sequence, "The Dark Is Rising." The fourth book in the series, "The Grey King," won the Newbery Medal in 1976. By that time, Susan Cooper had been living in America for 13 years, having moved to marry her first husband, an American professor, and was stepmother to three children and the mother of two.

Cooper went on to write other well-received novels, including "The Boggart" (and its sequel "The Boggart and the Monster"), "King of Shadows", and "Victory," as well as several picture books for young readers with illustrators such as Ashley Bryan and Warwick Hutton. She has also written books for adults, as well as plays and Emmy-nominated screenplays, many in collaboration with the actor Hume Cronyn, whom she married in 1996. Hume Cronyn died in 2003 and Ms. Cooper now lives in Marshfield MA. When Cooper is not working, she enjoys playing piano, gardening, and traveling.

Recent books include the collaborative project "The Exquisite Corpse Adventure" and her biography of Jack Langstaff titled "The Magic Maker." Her newest book is "Ghost Hawk."

Visit her Facebook pages: www.facebook.com/SusanCooperFanPage

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,064 reviews
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,645 reviews5,106 followers
December 22, 2017
boy meets boy; antics ensue.

boy with Old soul meets boy with dog with old soul; old king wishes they never met.

sick boy with too many siblings meets sickly boy with some serious father issues.

little weirdo meets his match in another little weirdo; the latter teaches the former how to pronounce Welsh words.

super-powered boy meets albino boy with golden eyes; the former teaches the latter the meaning of friendship, power, and why old kings are bad news for everyone.

Ancient Immortal Being meets Boy Lost Out Of Time; together they play with dogs and avoid mean old kings.

brave dog battles horrible grey foxes.

grey foxes just trying to protect their boss battle uptight dog; sheep die during the rumpus.

evil ginger says unkind things to two sweet boys and a noble dog; mean old king approves.

two mean boys torment a mentally ill redhead who just wants to protect his sheep and maybe make friends with a sleepy old king.

the white Light burns bright; the shadow of Dark shall rise.

sleepy king just wants to keep things sleepy, for him, his 6 guests, and maybe the rest of the world; two busybody boys refuse to let anyone sleep in.

two brave boys defeat one great evil; Light triumphs over Dark!

lonely old man gets evicted from his last refuge by two young jerks. :(
Profile Image for Maggie Stiefvater.
Author 88 books168k followers
December 15, 2009
*Happy sigh* I just finished rereading this one again last night. With the exception of the first book in the Dark is Rising series, I love all of them -- atmospheric, dreamy, and creepy, the lot of them. And steeped in old folklore and told in lovely prose so that they feel like they grew out of the ground instead of being written by a modern author.

I cannot recommend them highly enough . . . but do read them in order.
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,009 followers
December 24, 2013
Normally, The Grey King would be my favourite of the five books that make up this sequence. Something about the setting in Wales, and Bran's loneliness and arrogance, and of course the tie-in with Arthuriana, and the way that it begins to bring in some more moral ambiguity when John Rowlands questions the coldness at the heart of the Light. Somehow, I didn't love it as much as usual this time -- possibly because I'd just spent a lot of time debating the merits of Greenwitch with various people, and thus missed some of the stellar things about that book (more involvement of female characters, more mysteries like the various hauntings of Cornwall, contact with the Wild Magic) when reading this one, which is more straightforward in some ways. If you've read the series before, then there's little mystery about who Bran is and what role he has to play.

Still, it's a lovely book, with Susan Cooper's usual understanding of people and lyrical way of describing things so that the sound of the words is an important part of the experience for me. The relationship between Owen and Bran, with that lovely section so near the end; the levels you can see, particularly depicting Owen and in the character of John; the touches of mystery there are like the issue of the Grey King himself -- all of it is as wonderful as ever on what must be at least my tenth reread, and probably more than that.

And, of course, there's Cafall -- the courage and loyalty, and the heartbreak. That whole section brings a horrid lump to my throat every single time.
Profile Image for Tim.
181 reviews12 followers
July 6, 2016
So, I've been reading Cooper's Dark is Rising series, which I somehow never got to as a kid despite hearing so much about it, and knowing it won a ton of awards. This one, for instance, won the Newbery, one of the biggest American awards for young adult fiction. And the overwhelming sense I've come away with so far is: why?

Don't get me wrong, there are moments of good description, and good story-telling. But it is hung on a framework that doesn't really work. Sure, in theory we have an epic battle going on between Light and Dark (don't get me started) but despite being frequently reminded of this fact by the narrator, we never actually have any sense of the stakes or any concrete reasons to care. In this book, the only thing we care about is the crazy dude going around on a sheepdog-shooting rampage, but that's not even treated as a proxy for the larger, magical struggle -- just sort of an inconsequential spinoff from it.

Look, if you're anything like me, you care a lot more that an innocent non-magical dog is kept safe from the lunatic neighbor with a shotgun than you do that a magical harp is retrieved via riddle game from a cave so it can be played by a lake to awaken six ghostly Arthurian knights who show up, literally do nothing except nod at the protagonist, and then vanish.

The incoherence of the narrative structure aside, we also need to talk about Will Stanton. The ostensible protagonist of the series, Will is an 11yo with the powers of a mighty wizard that he "inherited" (I'm no fan of the hero-by-blood trope), were unearned (injected into him Matrix-style with a book), and which, maybe worst of all, cost him nothing to use. You know what this adds up to? The central character is nothing but a mobile plot advancement device. Four books in, and I couldn't tell you the first thing about Will as a person -- is he curious? generous? bold? shy? No idea. But he will suddenly know how to magically solve whatever problem presents itself, because.

Except when he doesn't, of course, because he needs not to solve it yet. For instance, much is made in the second book (The Dark is Rising) when Will is introduced and being shown how powerful he is, that the first thing he can do is start and extinguish fires at will. He does it several times in that book; it's fairly reasonably developed and used as a plot point. So imagine my surprise when a major development early in this book is a wildfire that it never occurs to Will to even try to put out:

"But Will, beating hopelessly with his long flat-tipped broom, felt that nothing could halt or check the inferno before them." Boy, it sure would be a great time for someone with supernatural powers to, say, extinguish fire. Yep, sure could use someone like that right about now. Look, maybe you're saying, the whole mountainside is on fire, that's a bit much to ask of even an immortal wizard who's had his entire personality replaced with pure power! Yet even when it's just a single burning branch tumbling over a ledge toward a dry and unburnt area, no mention is made of Will trying to put it out; they just watch it go, helpless to stop it... because they need to flee the fire to a specific location, you see (that magic cave the harp is in).

I don't lay this all at Cooper's feet; obviously a decent editor should have called her on this massive inconsistency. Heck, later in the book Will's powers are constantly being negated by the Grey King (the regional Lord of the Dark, Local 211) when they would too easily defuse the dramatic climax; why not just start that earlier, and have the Grey King make Will's level 1 Fire Extinguisher spell fail? Or why not at least carry the amnesia (specific to his powers, natch) that Will inexplicably starts this book with just partially persist a bit longer as a lazy excuse for his not knowing what he did two books ago, instead of just as inexplicably removing the amnesia and saying specifically that everything had come back to him?

Okay, I'm just beating a dead horse now. Look, I'll say again, certain storytelling passages worked well; I liked the boy Bran's origin story (mainly the non-magical parts, but even the magical part too). I loved the Welsh setting, and wasn't even put off by Cooper's extended lessons on Welsh pronunciation embedded in the dialogue -- I liked it as a reader, and it wasn't implausible for a Welsh boy teaching his new English friend what was what.

But seriously people, a Newbery? Were we that hard up for kid's books in 1975? At this point I'd say the only book in the series really worth reading is the first one (Over Sea, Under Stone), which is a pretty great puzzle-solving treasure hunt starring three completely ordinary kids (before Will showed up!) set in Cornwall. (Greenwitch is ok, mainly due to bringing back those kids; but the magic is also a bit more luminously original, and human emotions are actually central to the magical outcomes.)

I am going to go on and read the last one -- not because I care whether the Dark that has supposedly been Rising all this time will finally stop hitting the snooze button, but because the ordinary kids will be back, it is also set in Wales, and if Cooper could get back to the trippier magic of Greenwitch it won't be a total waste of time. And at least then I can say I gave the series a fair shake.

If you're still not sure... I do not recommend it.
Profile Image for J.M. Hushour.
Author 8 books200 followers
June 11, 2019
You know you love a book from your childhood a lot when you go out of your way on trips abroad to see the places where the action happened. Cooper's fourth novel in the DiR series is so steeped, no, drowned! in all things Welsh that you can't help but want to get the hell there and check it out. Which I did many years ago. Her works in this series especially are refulgent and replete with all kinds of British lore, especially Arthurian, and then some, but she reaches new heights of weaving them into this penultimate volume. Plus, we learn some Welsh to boot.
Will Stanton, the kid/Old One, goes to Wales to convalesce, meets a weird albino kid and his dog and fights the dark forces of the Brenin Llywd, the Grey King. Now, if you aren't familiar with these and were born within the last, say, 20 years, the phrase "fights the dark forces" likely means something different to you, something loud and blaring and colorful. Here it means subtle things, changes in weather and shadow, strange stones of unbearable, crushing weight, local farmers driven mad by the Grey King, and ghost fox/wolves.
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,009 followers
January 27, 2016
I somewhat put off reviewing The Grey King after finishing reading it, because I’m not sure what there is to say about it anymore. I’ve rhapsodised about it at length: the use of mythology, the casual use of the Welsh language, the home-ness of the landscape and the people… The shades of grey and the adult touches when it comes to Owen Davies and John Rowlands, and Will Stanton’s interactions with them. There’s some beautiful passages, especially the section spent in Craig yr Aderyn, and some genuine moments of horror, loss, anger, fear…

And there’s Bran Davies. One of the first Welsh heroes I came across in fiction — at the age of sixteen or so. And he really is Welsh; Welsh-speaking, Welsh-thinking, a part of the Welsh landscape and mythology. But he’s also very human — vulnerable. Angry. Resentful, even. Strange and unhappy and alone. And then his friendship with Will is just lovely, the immediate rapport between them, the ways Will being an Old One damages it, the ways Bran adapts.

And there’s Cafall. All too briefly, but so key to the plot, to Bran.

There’s quite a lot of more adult themes here — quite far from the world of Over Sea, Under Stone, which is almost entirely concerned with Barney, Jane and Simon. There’s Owen’s grief for Gwen; Gwen’s grief at betraying her husband; the jealousy and rivalry between Owen Davies and Caradog Prichard; Arthur’s yearning for connection with his son… And of course, those shades of grey I mentioned. The conversation between John and Will about how the Light will ignore the good of a single person to pursue the greater good, and John’s reaction, really highlights to me that the humans are the real heroes of this series. And the villains, too, because Lords of the Dark choose to become what they are — they aren’t born, like Old Ones.

Originally posted here.
Profile Image for Lightreads.
641 reviews525 followers
April 29, 2012
The really upsetting one. I'd been calling it that in my head all along, but I didn't realize I didn't actually remember why. It turns out this upset me so much as a child that I literally blanked out the relevant details; I remembered about two pages before it happened, in the same horrible swooping lurch that Will experiences as he realizes something bad is about to happen. Animal harm, man, that shit fucks you up. /profound.

Anyway. I found this intensely interesting. It follows on very well from Greenwitch, like the next sentence in an argument. Which is how a series ought to work, in an ideal world.

My understanding of this book is filtered through two contrasting scenes. One is Will and Bran questing for the harp, coming before the three hooded powers and answering the riddles set them. There's something so constrained about that scene, so bloodless and controlled with the representatives of the polls of magic fulfilling their assigned roles. As a child, I found it hugely confusing that Merriman is one of the hooded figures; he's on their side, so why does he make them go through the song and dance? Because he has to, because the scripted magic prophecy says he must, and he is an Old One, so he does. (BTW, if anyone would care to educate me on what significance the three riddles have, I'd love to hear it. Their content, I mean -- they have always been entirely puzzling to me, and I did not stop to Google this time like I meant to).

Contrast that with the other scene of riddles asked and answered: Bran screaming at his father in the hut on the hillside, demanding to know who he is and where he came from. The complete opposite of bloodless and constrained. This book is like that -- the magic has that stilted, staged feel of predestiny, while the parallel human story is messy and wildly alive. The Grey King might roll out his menacing fog, and I'll grant you he's creepy. But the most profound, awful evil in this book for my money is purely human. And for all Will is the questing hero, the greatest kindness and bravery aren't his. They're John Rowlands's, and Bran's, and most profoundly, Bran's father's.

It all really works. See John Rowlands talking to Will about the coldness of the Light. This book really digs into what we've only seen in glimpses before about how the Light is fighting for mankind while being profoundly outside it. Try and picture Will screaming at anybody, demanding the secrets of his history. Doesn't work, does it?

Humanity has a range, a resonance in the book that the people of power just don't. Will's most profound moments for me come early, when he is still amnesiac and in a fundamental way, not himself, just a boy. Will gets his memory back and instantly steps out of the center of the emotional arc, which belongs almost entirely to Bran and his connections.

Which is another thing -- why the hell is Bran albino? I've always wondered, and I figured an answer would come to me on this reread, but nope. There's the obvious -- Cooper is using physical disability as a marker of strangeness. Bran's appearance works that way in the narrative -- it's code for a different level of strangeness, of out-of-placeness. But is that all? It's implied very very fleetingly in the next book that Herne the Hunter is actually an incarnation of Arthur, and that's where Bran gets his looks -- really not sure what to make of that.
Profile Image for Ben De Bono.
463 reviews78 followers
February 15, 2016
I'm beginning to think that this series would be better titled The Dark is Stumbling Around Awkwardly Without Ever Accomplishing Much. In this volume our heroes take on the Grey King, a villain who we're reminded every other paragraph is more powerful and evil than any other encountered so far.

Despite this impressive reputation, the most evil things he manages to accomplish are (a) killing a few sheep and (b) making one small patch of ground briefly change shape. He also seems to have it out for sheepdogs for reasons that remain murky throughout the entire book. In the end he is valiantly defeated by our brave hero gives up, shrugs his shoulders, and wanders away. Again, the reasons for the most powerful and evilest bad guy ever electing this strategy remain unclear.

We also spend an enormously long time learning how to pronounce Welsh words. Which I suppose is helpful if you're planning on learning Welsh immediately after finishing the book.

Normally when I hate a series this much, quitting it is a no brainer. Sadly, I'm reading it out loud to my daughter, which means I must soldier on. Susan Cooper is a truly dreadful author, but at least there's only one book left!
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,009 followers
December 31, 2012
It's pretty much a tradition for me now to reread this series at this time of year, so I wanted to get it done before we move into 2013. The 2012 reread of The Dark is Rising sees me struggling with anxiety and depression issues, and I nearly didn't get round to reading this, this year. But it is my comfort reading, so it was a good idea that I just planted myself firmly down with the book in hand today -- the same old battered copy as always, of course.

To my mind, this is the point in the sequence where more subtlety begins to come in. Owen Davies' shame, Guinevere's betrayal, John Rowlands' speech about how the Light can be as cruel in its absolute cold justice as the Dark in its horrors, from the point of view of humanity... I still feel like I'm discovering this world, every little bit of it, noticing little things like where in Silver on the Tree Will still doesn't understand quite how it is that Old Ones do what they do, and Merriman says he's still too close to human...

Obviously, I think these books reward rereading, or I wouldn't keep doing it, though, so I think I'm preaching to those who understand where I'm coming from, if not quite to the converted. I do think these books are beautiful and worthy, though. I do sometimes wonder what the story would be like, turned round the other way, like Jacqueline Carey does to Lord of the Rings in Banewreaker/Godslayer.

Thinking about it right now, it reminds me of Assassin's Creed 3. Spoilers for that follow:
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,009 followers
December 20, 2015
The Grey King is possibly my favourite book of this sequence -- and I swear that's not only because it's set in my home country. It's a lovely, lovely book. This is the most layered of the books, I think -- by which I mean this is the book that has the most to offer for people of all ages. There are the more open and obvious emotions of Bran -- grief, pride, arrogance -- and the more complex grief and guilt of Owen Davies, which I'm not sure a younger reader would be able to fully understand.

The characters in this book are all excellent. We have one new main character, completing our six, and that is, of course, Bran. He's a very interesting character, I find. His aloofness and exclusion is well done without being over done, I think, and the moments when he acts just like a normal boy with Will are beautiful. He's incredibly human, and yet he's also princely/kingly at times... the juxtaposition of the two is as interesting with him as it is with Will. It's not just Bran who proves an interesting character, though: I'm also drawn to Owen Davies and John Rowlands. Both of them are so human. Owen is so unfair to Bran, in some ways, and yet it's clear he loves him and wants to do well by him. John is one of those people who is truly good and unwittingly (most of the time) serves the Light: it's interesting to see a character like that, beyond the fact that he's purely likeable.

This is also the book in which the hints at an Arthurian background blossom a little. Still not as much as in the last book, but we've gone from realising Merriman is Merlin at the end of the first book to seeing the real King Arthur and his son.

My true favourite scene in the whole sequence comes in the very last page of this book: "Bran went to Davies and put his arm round his waist, and stood close. It was the first gesture of affection between the two that Will had ever seen. And wondering, loving surprise woke in Owen Davies's worn face as he looked down at the boy's white head, and the two stood there, waiting."

Reread again in December 2009. Beautiful. Made me cry. Swept me off into its little world as always.
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,923 reviews1,258 followers
October 21, 2013
I’ve been making a slow tour through Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence for a few months now. It’s undeniably an important series in the fantasy canon, but my personal reaction to it has been more ambivalent. I have been rather disappointed with the novels as stories. They’re brilliant examples of methodical mythological remixing. Yet in adjusting the tone of the books to aim them to her younger audience, Cooper also seems to feel it’s necessary to remove a great deal of the complexity and subtlety that makes novels such an interesting literary form. Novels, to me, are interesting beasts. Their ability to ensnare and divert readers through twisting passages of description and narration make them far craftier and less trustworthy than their dramatic and poetic cousins; novels aim to make a meal out of the reader. The best writers are those who can harness this predatory nature to craft stories that absorb the reader by tickling us with the hints and harsh edges of the darkness at the edge of the light.

The previous volumes of this series lack that complexity and that depth of conflict required to sustain that interest. I haven’t read these as a child, so I can’t speak to how I might like or dislike them. But children understand darkness a lot more than many people give them credit for doing. Their lives are not the perfect, innocent world we often want them to be. So I think we do them a disservice when we insist that the fiction we give them ignores real-and-present darkness in favour of more abstract, "kid-safe" versions. Ironically, given that most of its conflict concerns the battle between the Light and the Dark, The Dark is Rising sequence is mostly the latter. With few exceptions, these are books where the main characters fight the powers of darkness on their holidays, on the side, and danger never seems to be more serious than having to run away from a bad man.

So, prior to reading it, I admit to being rather baffled by the fact that The Grey King won the Newberry. This just goes to show that prior performance can’t always predict future success: this book is a long sight better than the previous ones in the series. For Cooper deigns to put Will and his sidekick in far deeper waters than she has ever dared previously, and the payoff is immediate and gratifying. The Grey King edges ever closer to being the tricksy type of creature a novel should be.

Will visits some relatives in Wales as he recovers from an illness. (I don’t think this kid ever actually goes to school.) It’s implied the illness might be an attempt by the Dark to derail him, since for a little while he seems to have forgotten the rhyme he learned at the end of Greenwitch. If so, the attempt backfired in a big way, since Will ends up visiting the exact place he needs to be to find the Golden Harp and wake the Sleepers. Destiny for the win!

Cooper experiments with structure as well, dividing the book into two parts that concern the two quests Will undertakes while in Wales. The previous stories were all quests of some sort, but this one has much more focus. Merriman continues to pop in and out in that annoying Gandalfian way of his, but it’s much less frequent and intrusive than it has been in the past. The Grey King feels like Will’s story, more so even than The Dark is Rising.

Except it’s also kind of Bran’s story.

A new character, Bran is special in terms of his heritage. However, Cooper manages to strike a balance between building Bran up and giving Will enough to do to justify his presence as an Old One. The two work as a complementary duo: Bran has a certain amount of fortitude and, of course, local knowledge, while Will has his own specialized knowledge as an Old One and the sense of indomitable spirit that has allowed him to succeed in the past. Neither could stand against the Grey King by himself; together, they make a compelling team.

This is the first of the Dark is Rising books that feels like it gives the protagonists enough to do and provides a meaningful threat. The previous books had intriguing puzzles and interesting main characters. But the stakes, despite ostensibly involving the fate of the world, never quite seemed high enough. In contrast, Cooper puts her protagonists in more danger here, with stakes that include their own lives and lives of trusted companions. Never has the Dark seemed like a more dangerous enemy than in this book.

One more to go. Silver on the Tree has a lot it must deliver, as the last novel in this sequence, and the surprising quality of The Grey King compared to its predecessors only enhances my expectations for the last book. Though I continue to enjoy Cooper’s writing and her use of British mythology in her stories, I hope the trend towards complexity seen here continues.

My reviews of the Dark is Rising sequence:
Greenwitch | Silver on the Tree

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Profile Image for Lexish.
206 reviews
October 24, 2015
This is one of the most well-written young adult books I've ever read. They don't write 'em like this anymore! There's a reason Susan Cooper won the Newbery Medal for this. Her incredible, melodic descriptive language and her ability to interweave history, mythology, legend, and good old-fashioned fiction bring this book far beyond a traditional "boy with special powers" book. If you appreciate the English language and if you have an interest in history and legend, this one is for you. Susan Cooper did her research--one can look up the background of many of the people, places, and mythical figures and see how they relate to the history of what is now the United Kingdom. I realize that many are skeptical about this genre after the Harry Potter craze; however, this is one of the classics. It's next to The Chronicles of Narnia on my bookshelf.

P.S. If you're looking to change formats, I would also recommend the audiobook of this (read by Richard Mitchley, who speaks Welsh and who thus makes this reading even more interesting).
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,009 followers
January 29, 2012
This one is probably my favourite book of the series. It always makes me feel hiraeth. One day, I need to visit the parts of Wales these books are set in, really. And get someone to coach me on how to pronounce them: the section where Bran teaches Will is quite helpful, but not as good as hearing someone say the place names. Alas, I speak very little Welsh.

I think Bran is my favourite character of the series. Barney's cute, but Bran has more depth, with his troubled past and how much he has to deal with. There's subtlety, too, in the emotions of all the characters -- there's a level on which it works best for adults, even, like understanding Owen Davies' feelings. But it works for everyone, on all levels, I think, too.

This is also more subtle in terms of seeing the Light and the Dark as extremes, which can each be bad in their own way. John Rowlands talks about the Light as being cold absolute good, without mercy or love, and that's an interesting way of looking at it.
Profile Image for Julie.
1,112 reviews
June 25, 2021
I remember loving Over Sea, Under Stone more as a child, probably because of the Drew children. And there's a lot to love about The Dark Is Rising and Greenwitch. But, rereading/listening as an adult, this one is my favorite, and it's clear why Susan Cooper won the Newbery for it. The conflict intensifies, key players are revealed for their true nature, and the relationship between Bran and Owen Davies is one of the best father-son reconciliations in children's fiction, if not in all fiction. I love how the reader sees their dawning understanding of one another as Bran comes of age and fulfills his destiny. I also love the relationship between Bran and Will. The descriptions of the Welsh hills and lakes and mists and moors are more vividly drawn and memorable, to my mind, than the landscapes in the other entries in the series. This book hits all the right notes, drawing on legend and myth to develop Cooper's themes, and I'll be sorry to finish my re-read but am looking forward to Silver on the Tree.
As an aside, the narration is outstanding. Alex Jennings read the first three and was also brilliant. But from what I gleaned elsewhere, Richard Mitchley had more facility with the Welsh language which permeates this book in snippets, and Alex Jennings will resume with the final book. Both narrators are highly recommended.
Profile Image for Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore.
762 reviews169 followers
January 8, 2023
The fourth entry in The Dark is Rising sequence, and my final completed read of 2022, The Grey King, takes us to a completely new setting (as indicated at the end of Greenwitch)—Wales—and is rich in place, language and legend, besides Arthurian lore. From all the books in the series so far, this was the hardest one to read for me because of something that happens (and which one knows is coming, even though one hopes it doesn’t).

In The Grey King, Will Stanton, the last of the Old Ones must take on his only sole quest, which is no easy task, as Will is the youngest of the Old Ones and hasn’t come into his full strength just yet. But even before Will reaches Wales, his difficulties begin, for he falls seriously ill with hepatitis and forgets not only who he really is but also the verses that the Greenwitch’s secret revealed, and on which his quest will be based. But of course, it is also his illness that actually gets him to Wales as Will is sent to stay with his relations, David and Jen Evans, to convalesce at their farm, Clwyd. As he is fetched from the station by their son Rhys, the forces of Dark already begin to strike but Will is happily unaware. At the farm, as he begins to recover his health (the story in this respect feeling much like the usual farm story where the convalescent child protagonist from the city experiences the ‘magic’ of the country and plenty of delicious food), he meets a strange boy Bran, about his own age but an albino and thus shunned by all around him. Bran has a dog Cafall, who we soon see is special, and through them Will is reawakened to the truth—the prophecy and his quest. But the Dark, in the form of the Grey King or Brenin Llwyd is not simply lurking, it is making its menace felt, acting not directly but through willing minds, with the dangers he unleashes becoming very real. Amidst this, Will must pursue his quest, though it turns out that he is not quite as alone on it as he first believed.

The Grey King is strongly rooted in Wales and its legends. Be it the Brenin Llwyd or the Grey King, who haunts the mountains (and who in the book, acts among others, through the ferocious Milgwn or grey foxes) or the golden harp which has magical powers, which here is one of the Things of Power which the forces of Light need to defeat Dark, Cooper weaves them in to tell an exciting tale. The setting and landscape are based on real-life spaces that Cooper was familiar with and while she may have taken liberties with them as she says in her introduction, through her descriptions one certainly gets a good sense of the Welsh countryside and landscape. Then there is the language—Bran’s rather extended lesson to Will on Welsh pronunciation won’t I think appeal to all readers; I tried a little to catch some of it, but then gave up (something I’ll probably return to on a revisit sometime).

One aspect that’s stood out to me all through this sequence is how palpable Susan Cooper makes the element of danger—far more than some children’s and young adult fiction I’ve read, and certainly far far more unsettling. In this instalment, if anything, things go some notches higher for the danger here (as I mentioned already) doesn’t simply lurk, it translates into some very real perils, for instance the fire that breaks out on the farm, and that seems unrelenting, however hard Will and his relations and others who work on the farm try to beat it out. The Dark here is also acting through pliable humans, and as one of the Old Ones tells Bran, ‘only the creatures of earth may take from one another’. Reality is sadly felt in this process, breaking not only the characters’ but also the readers’ hearts. Not only that, alongside the threat posed by the Dark, unsettling truths about Light are also revealed

Besides Will’s quest and the fight between the Dark and Light, this instalment also tells us the rather tragic story of Bran, brought up by his father Owen Davies, with whom he shares a rather tenuous relationship, and also of the seemingly crazed Caradog Pritchard whose desire to harm has far more behind it than we first see. These characters’ complex stories and fraught relationships I think are an aspect that I could appreciate far better reading this book now than I would have as a child, and they add another layer of depth to the book (In addition, the fantasy element involved brings a surprise reveal I certainly didn’t see coming).

While this book had its heart-breaking moments (of the kind I usually like to avoid in fiction), I loved the sense of place we get, the secrets we learn, as well as Cooper’s weaving in of legends—both Welsh and Arthurian—with the quest story at the core in a very readable tale which just precedes the final confrontation between Light and Dark (which needless to say, it left me excited to pick up).
Profile Image for Judith Johnson.
Author 1 book86 followers
June 29, 2022
Mwynheuais i’r llyfr’ma iawn iawn! Mae e’n ardderchog!

A wonderful fourth book in the series. Of course as an adult reader you can guess the references to a certain legend, but this was written for children, and as with all of this series, I would have so loved reading them as a child. Loved reading them now, of course! Never too late to have a happy childhood, as the saying goes!

Living in Wales and currently learning to speak its beautiful language, I appreciated the book’s setting. 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿

Profile Image for Tracy.
630 reviews21 followers
January 13, 2020
These books are so beautiful. This one I hadn’t read since I was very young and it was better than I remembered. Will is sent to Wales to recover from a long illness. The setting in the Welsh countryside is rigged and beautiful. Here Will meets a boy, Bran and his dog Cafall, they become friends and the two boys fulfill Will’s quest to find the harp of gold and waken the sleepers. I just finished this and I am left haunted by the ending both glorious and tragic. Just wonderful.
Profile Image for Magill.
474 reviews14 followers
August 18, 2016
Another slim book, at a YA length, which I think hurts the arc of this story to some extent, comprising the harp AND the sleepers. While the author's writing never feels hurried in description or tone, it seems that more time could have benefited the details and the character development of the story.

Things happen quickly, even if described leisurely-ly; whys or why-nots are left unanswered (why Will's memory loss, when it came back so easily; why Bran and Cafall's initial behavior, except for irrelevant conflict; why the fire, except for the poem; why the foxes, except for Cafall; why Caradog, period; why the riddles, no really, why the riddles; why the pebble, except for the threats of the Grey King (which didn't come to much); why the bicycle, when you are an Old One; etc.). The Grey King and the release of the 6 sleepers seemed almost anti-climactic after what happened with Cafall, and looming threats come to naught. Even the pebble battle seemed to have more magic in it than releasing the sleepers; and Caradog as a minion seemed rather ineffectual but still posed more threat than the Grey King. The story still hangs together but is rather poorly stitched in places, although the fabric is quite well made.

Will seems to have the chance to be a boy again, at times, rather than the cipher he was in the previous book. There are some great passages, like under the stars; and John Rowland had some great observations. And the story does seem to have a bit of theme, loss. Bran has a dual loss, Owen has a loss, even Caradog has a loss, and Gwen had a loss. And the human choice of response to hurt or loss, plays out in a couple of ways.

It was a quick and easy read and I enjoyed the atmosphere, but the depth and complexity of the story is just too pared down for me.
Profile Image for Pearl.
245 reviews18 followers
February 18, 2017
Okay the series has turned enjoyable again!

It's funny, I think Cooper realised she'd made Will close to infallible in the previous book, so she's whacked him with a memory loss inducing illness at the start of this one. A bit ham handed but I'm just so thankful she realised the corner she'd written herself into!

The illness is also an excellent excuse to move the whole story to Wales (Cause dontcha know? When you're recovering from a life threatening fever, rainy Wales is the PERFECT place to do it). But sarcasm aside I enjoyed the scenery change, and found the language and the local myths pretty cool.

I am realising more and more that these are written consistently for children aged 10. If I may make a teeny tiny Potter comparison here, that's one thing I realised Rowling did really cleverly, ageing the kids up a year each book. You got a realistic sense of their growth as humans, something that cannot be said for Will.

The oh-so-wise passive voiced Will returns about half way through this one, and I can't believe I'm writing this, but I'd choose tween angst over his somber calculations any day.

But aside from these (grown up reading a children's novel) complaints, I really did enjoy this one. Cooper has a real gift for mood and ritual, and Wales is a wonderfully interesting canvas.

I think my main feeling on these books is: should have read these as a kid.
Profile Image for J. Aleksandr Wootton.
Author 8 books134 followers
March 15, 2021
Not amazing, but I liked it. Kids' fantasy best suited for preteens who won't be troubled by Cooper's antipathy for systematic worldbuilding, but who will engage with the real-world stakes (reputation and livelihood) and be content to let the wondrous aspects of the story exist as wondrous and unresolvable. A fantasy for those who like to feel their way forward.
Profile Image for Ashley Marie .
1,240 reviews385 followers
December 6, 2022
What the actual h*ck was thatttttt

cw for animal endangerment & death

I'm ready for the finale and also not ready and also (as always) ready to binge-reread this series. Ha!

Also wondering if the audiobook was handled by Richard Mitchley in place of Alex Jennings thanks to the metric fucktonne of Welsh? Either way I liked it.
Profile Image for Pam Baddeley.
Author 2 books45 followers
February 6, 2018
This is book 4 of the sequence and we are back with Will and with out and out fantasy after the previous blend of adventure story with fantasy and the Drew children's return.

Will is sent to Wales to recuperate after a serious illness which not only weakens him physically, but makes him forget that he is an Old One, last of that mysterious group who serve the Light and oppose the rising of the Dark. At first he is unaware that he has to perform a quest to regain another object of power to help the Light prevail, and must do so without the help of his mentor, Merriman Lyon, although a boy with whom he strikes up a precarious friendship is instrumental in helping him succeed.

Bran, who it transpires is the Raven Boy from the poem Will memorised at the end of book 3, is an albino and a loner, his only close friend his father's sheepdog, Caffal. Will meets them when he starts to explore the hills, having had a small stirring of memory about what he is meant to be doing there, and the dog restores his lost sense of self. But they are opposed not only by the supernatural forces of the Grey King, a major force among the Dark, but by human stupidity and vengefulness.

In some ways this is far more of an adult book than the rest of the series because of the thread concerning the relationship between Bran's mother, his father, and the local villain. Will has to grapple with issues far in advance of his eleven and a half years, though not of his greater Old One self, yet he has sympathy for Bran's difficulties. There is tragedy for Bran, though probably not as affecting as it could have been as it was telegraphed long before the event. But in some ways it is the human story concerning Bran which is the most affecting part of the book. The fantasy elements are in some ways a bit grafted on and artificial - the sequence when the boys have to answer the riddles posed by the three "kings" and who their real identities are is a case in point. It is also rather odd that a major plot device concerns a wildfire - the eponymous book that introduced Will shows us that he can start and put out fires, but here he never even thinks to try extinguishing this one, and yet he is supposed to be a powerful wizard. I liked the book, but I didn't love it, so a 3 rating from me.
Author 4 books121 followers
February 22, 2019
Like The Dark is Rising, this is a darker series entry with the dangers greater and peril at every turn. It's Will Stanton's story again, and he is aided by an odd, albino boy Bran who has an intriguing past. A poem of sorts has run through the series, identifying what has been happening--the finding of the 6 who go against the Dark and the accoutrement that accompanies them from the grail in the first volume to the beginning of the search for the golden harp in this one, along with the awakening of the sleepers in the Welsh hills. Spells, spirit wolves, betrayals, and help when it's needed most figure in here, as Will, aided by an often reluctant Bran, continue to play out their roles in the great battle against the dark. Stirring stuff.
Profile Image for David.
Author 18 books336 followers
July 24, 2013
July 2013 reread

This fourth book is where the Dark is Rising sequence begins to pick up its pace and become more epic, weaving the final battle of the Dark vs. the Light into a retold Arthurian mythos. Rereading it as an adult, I began to feel again a little bit of the magic that so entranced me as a child when this was my favorite series ever.

In The Grey King, Will Stanton, last of the Old Ones, has been sent to stay with an uncle in Wales to recover from an illness, thus continuing to contrast his humanity (physically he is still an eleven-year-old boy) with his immortal nature as an Old One. He is coming into his power and is now able to work magic and know things without everything being fed to him by his mentor Merriman, who makes only a token appearance in this book. Indeed, this is Will's first true solo quest. Notably, the Drew children, who starred in book one and shared the story with Will in book three, are completely absent and unmentioned here.

On the day of the dead, when the year too dies,
Must the youngest open the oldest hills
Through the door of the birds, where the breeze breaks.
There fire shall fly from the raven boy,
And the silver eyes that see the wind,
And the light shall have the harp of gold.

By the pleasant lake the Sleepers lie,
On Cadfan’s Way where the kestrels call;
Though grim from the Grey King shadows fall,
Yet singing the golden harp shall guide
To break their sleep and bid them ride.

When light from the lost land shall return,
Six Sleepers shall ride, six Signs shall burn,
And where the midsummer tree grows tall
By Pendragon’s sword the Dark shall fall.

Y maent yr mynyddoedd yn canu,
ac y mae’r arglwyddes yn dod.

Susan Cooper definitely has a more poetic pen than Rowling, and in The Grey King you get a lot of Welsh — Welsh landscapes, Welsh mythology, even a little bit of Welsh language lessons. The Grey King is the Brenin Llwyd, a great Lord of the Dark who dwells in Cader Idris, a misty mountain over a pleasant farm valley, where six sleepers lie sleeping, to be awoken by a harp of gold — if Will can find it and play it and prevent the Grey King from preventing him.

Also to play a role in this story is Bran, the Raven Boy, an albino the same age as Will, whose true nature is revealed in dramatic and powerful fashion.

Highlights of this book, besides the magnificent Welsh scenery, were the bits of magic, much more forceful and powerful this time. Will isn't playing around any more, but he's no god or even a full-fledged wizard, and the Light and the Dark both have hard limits on what they can do, bound by universal rules. Susan Cooper gives the magic powers a sense of mystery and epic scope even while applying appropriate narrative constraints and without trying to enumerate them in the style of a modern fantasy novel.

There is also much more powerful human drama this time around. Caradog Prichard, the human "villain" of the piece, is a nasty piece of work, yet ultimately just a man, and so Will's inevitably doomed efforts to save him from his own folly read as real and yet foreordained. There is an eternal human tragedy replayed as Will proceeds toward the final stage of his quest.

Although it's been too long and I'm now too much of a grown-up to feel the same wonder and thrill I did reading this in elementary school, the first three books were pleasant but not really that much fun and kind of left me wondering why I loved them so much as a child, while this book shows Susan Cooper's talents as a dramatist and storyteller more.
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,009 followers
March 9, 2011
The Grey King is possibly my favourite book of the sequence, and definitely one of my favourite books of all time. The things I noticed in this read through -- my full review, more of an overview of all the times I've read it, is here -- were mostly about the Welshness of it, and about the complexities of Will's relationship with the Light and humanity, and how exactly Bran is related to the Light.

John Rowlands' little speech about the coldness at the heart of the Light always strikes me -- it's a moral ambiguity that isn't always present (e.g. in Harry Potter). Several times we see that Will isn't really human, and we have to question how justified his goals are. Is the Light any better placed to dictate what humanity will do than the Dark? Although, thinking about it, what the Dark will do to humanity is rarely really articulated: it remains a formless fear, and the more potent for that, I think, as the reader brings their own understanding to that.

Once you've read the whole sequence, you do know that the Light is right, I think, because of how they handle their victory -- though at the same time, that coldness at the heart never goes away -- but you never see anything from the point of view of the Dark... I've read rewrites of The Lord of the Rings where Sauron was not evil. It'd be interesting to read a rewrite of The Dark is Rising, in that sense! How could one talk up the Dark and make it sound like the better choice... Clearly some people choose to be of the Dark: Merriman tells Will that the Lords of the Dark choose it, they aren't born into it as those of the Light are. That would be very interesting to know: what makes people choose to become Lords of the Dark? There is the painter, in Greenwitch, who is very lonely, very unhappy, an outcast... I think perhaps he's the clearest elaboration on this, though there is something about it in Silver on the Tree, too -- people so blinded by ideas that they lose all sense of right and wrong.

In any case, the other thing that really gets me about these books is they make my heart ache for Wales. Now I'm home in Wales, that's a slightly different experience, but I really don't know of any other book that invokes the feeling of Wales for me so strongly. Or I didn't, before, anyway: now I've read more Welsh writing, I'm starting to see that in other books. But The Dark is Rising is still the strongest.
Profile Image for Chris.
744 reviews99 followers
November 17, 2022
“On the day of the dead, when the year too dies,
Must the youngest open the oldest hills
Through the door of the birds, where the breeze breaks.”

The fourth book in Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence opens with a prophetic rhyme which, with its alliterative phrases, antonyms and allusions, reads like a riddle to be solved – which in a way it is. The day of the dead is the ancient Celtic feast of Samhain, the modern Halloween, which once upon a time marked the end of summer and the start of the new year as autumn ushers in winter.

Noson Galan Gaeaf – ‘the eve of the first day of winter’ – is the Welsh term for All Hallows Eve, an ysbrydnos or ‘spirit night’ when the departed walk abroad in spirit. Cooper’s The Grey King is set in Gwynedd, the northeast corner of Wales, at precisely this period, and it’s especially fitting that I completed it at the very time and in the area where the story’s action takes place, around Tywyn near Aberdyfi.

It’s in 1950s Aberdyfi – where, Cooper tells us, she spent many teenage holidays – that her Welsh Uncle Llew told her about the Brenin Llwyd or “Grey King” who features at the sinister heart of this spellbinding fantasy. It’s to nearby Tywyn and its hinterland that eleven-year-old Will Stanton comes to recuperate from hepatitis and where he has to call on all his powers to combat the malign forces on the slopes of the Cadair Idris massif.

First of all, this is no ordinary fantasy. True, it follows on from three preceding fantasies set in Cornwall and Buckinghamshire which increasingly upped the incidence of magical scenarios and characters; and admittedly we touch on legends and folklore which are more than mere stories for entertainment, being immanent in the action of the novel’s present-day. But The Grey King, for all its spells and malign adversaries, is firmly about people, human emotions, and relationships.

Will comes to stay with Welsh relatives on a farm inland from Tywyn on the Cardigan Bay coast, where the climate and environment may aid his recovery. But here he soon feels the brooding influence of the Dark, which he’s met before when it was revealed that in reality he was an Old One of the Light. The close-knit community dispersed among hill farms is full of distinctive figures – his aunt, uncle and cousin of course, but also John Rowlands, Owen Davies and Owen’s unusual son Brân. But also there’s Caradog Pritchard, a man with a shadowy history who seems to have developed irrational obsessions about his neighbours’ sheepdogs.

Within a few short days Will will have to adapt to a different way of life, negotiate fraught relationships, gain a smattering of the Welsh language – and hold the forces of the Dark at bay. What are the mysteries that the land of Gwynedd harbours and what happens when figures out of Arthurian legend and Welsh lore emerge to affect the course of human history?

Susan Cooper’s storytelling is outstanding. Added to her capacity for making the random workings of magic credible is her ability to make us accept the existence of her characters and to care about them as individuals; and then there’s her poetic descriptions of landscape, weather, feelings, descriptions which without being showy are crafted with precision and beauty. Nor must I omit her sensitive inclusion of some Welsh phrases because, this being Gwynedd, the reader should know that the iaith Gymreig is spoken here as a matter of course and that, although admittedly I'm Sais, even a smattering of Welsh aids one's appreciation immensely.

It’s hard to write in depth about this instalment in the series without giving too much of the story away, but the fact is that the stanzas which form the epigraph to The Grey King allude to many of the motifs appearing here, from the door of the birds to a raven boy, from a pilgrimage route to a golden harp and on to Six Sleepers and Arthur’s sword. Just how they are woven in with an intense tale of love, jealousy and loss is for the curious reader to discover and to savour.
Profile Image for James.
366 reviews14 followers
January 2, 2019
It's so much fun to return to this series with a different level of accumulated age and wisdom and a deeper understanding of the Arthurian tales that run in an undercurrent through each book. While Dark is Rising is my favorite, this is a close second. After reading other series that have covered similar ground (The Raven Cycle and The Sarantine Mosaic in particular), these adventures feel like familiar territory.

In this reading, I found myself feeling like the first half was rushed. Understandable, as this is a middle grade novel after all. But the imagery, emotion, and description employed in the second half would be just as well at home in a 600 page novel. I'll be finishing up with Silver on the Tree very soon.
Profile Image for Paul.
2,308 reviews20 followers
February 4, 2020
Oh my stars and garters! I cannot believe I’d forgotten Bran’s secret! I guess it has been thirty-odd years since I last read this but, still; it’s one of the biggest revelations of the entire series! I suppose one advantage of having a lousy memory is getting the thrill of these sort of revelations more than once! Ha!

This was another cracking entry into the series and I’m quite grief-stricken that there’s only one more book to go of this magical re-read...

P.S. My autocorrect tried to change ‘grief-stricken’ to ‘brief-stricken’ for some reason. Somebody should tell it being brief-stricken is something else entirely!
Profile Image for Sara .
1,129 reviews111 followers
June 2, 2021
Still re-reading my beloved Dark is Rising series. I'd give this one a 3.5. I love the Welsh setting, and the introduction of Bran, and the myths. Still, I found myself skimming over quite a few passages.

Fun fact for Maggie Stiefvater/Raven Boy fans - this book has:

-a character referred to as The Raven Boy
-"old ways" that act much the same as ley lines
-the search to find and wake a mythical Welsh king
-a 5 star rating by one Maggie Stiefvater
Profile Image for Joanne Leddy.
163 reviews1 follower
January 19, 2023
Book #4 of The Dark is Rising young adult series is my favorite so far. This part of the saga has us leaving England and traveling to Wales. In this Will Stanton befriends an albino boy who is not as he seems. The tale turns darker and more sinister which has me looking forward to the next (and final) book of the series.
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