Silver on The Tree : Susan Cooper

Silver on the Tree (The Dark is Rising, #5)Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

And so, my headlong, occasionally giddy, somewhat breathless rampage through The Dark is Rising sequence ends; and it ends here, with this book of almost breathless bigness and Breugel/Dali/Escher-esque overtones.

It is a heck of a series this, huge and madly inventive (though that’s wrong, it doesn’t feel as if it’s invented, it feels real, all of it, as though Cooper’s just pulled off the lid of something and let us look inside), and it is a heck of a reading experience to read them all in a gleeful, greedy rush.

So Silver on the Tree is about the coming together of things. It features Will Stanton, Bran, the Drew Children, Merriman and others, all of them being brought together to play their place in the right space and time(s). There are moments in this book where Cooper got a little too internalised, a little too lost in the vision of her world(s) which to me, still needed some clarifying in places and bringing back to the reader. But that is selfish, really, and I do read selfishly at times because in books like this, I want it all to make sense. I want to know everything and in this sequence, I have come to realise I know so very little, and every time I finish them I have hungered, somewhat blindly, for more.

And there is no more of this, this is it and this is the end, and it is is stunning and bold and so very, very big. Cooper soars, and the writing soars, and the endings and the resolution of things are soaring and stomach-turning and big, big, big.

I did it. I read a series that I think, with my content smugness of having, at last, read them, should be obligatory. It is not without failure (then again, not many narratives are), but it is replete with victories so huge and so scopey and world-changing in nature, that it is an outstanding achievement and a reality-shifting read.

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The Grey King : Susan Cooper

The Grey King (The Dark is Rising, #4)The Grey King by Susan Cooper

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It is interesting to me that the first book to halt me in my headlong and gleeful devouring of the series was this book set in Wales, the fourth book in the series, set in the thin grey rain of Snowdonia. It is not the Wales-ness of this book that stopped me (though partially, yes, it is, the dense nature of those mythological references that when they meant nothing to me, they very much meant nothing), but rather the way that this book did not seem to mean anything to me until those last few pages where it suddenly meant everything. And I find that so intriguing, the way my perception of a book can turn so wholly on a denouement, of the drawing of threads together to make a tightly woven masterpiece.

So Cooper is good, yes? If you have read my previous reviews of this series, you’ll know that. You’ll know her soaring, graceful, double-edged prose and be familiar with it. I think, in a way, reading these books is teaching me more about writing and my attitude towards it. It is not a fantasy series for me at the moment, it is a series about that grey area between the worlds of reality and imagination, about those places where we fall through and touch the stories that have built us and brought us to where we are. And that’s amazing and wondrous and something quite special, and something that will also keep me reading past pages where nothing very much happens because I know that, at some point, everything, but everything will happen.

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Greenwitch : Susan Cooper

Greenwitch (The Dark is Rising, #3)Greenwitch by Susan Cooper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Greenwitch is part of my first ever read of the entire The Dark Is Rising, and my slight “a series, a series, oh how I love a series” attitude, meant that I came to it hungrily and devoured it swiftly.

I am pleased that I came to it in sequence, for it is a book that builds quite thickly on the events of Over Sea, Under Stone and the sequel to that The Dark Is Rising itself. I fear if you weren’t acquainted with the series, at least thematically or conceptually, you’d struggle, for I know I would step away from a book as this, dense and sporadically impenetrable with thick, thick layers of meaning, were I not already invested in the series. But note, though, that if you are familiar with Cooper’s wild, ferocious prose, you are caught in this book yet again.

Greenwitch sees the Drew children meet Will Stanton through the connective force of Merriman. The two families holiday together in the familiar surroundings of Trewissick, the scene of the events of Over Sea, Under Stone, and take part in the next phase of their quest.

It’s particularly intriguing in this book to see Jane Drew come to the forefront. She plays an increasingly pivotal role in these events which have roles for everyone that they are (pre?)destined to play. As a result of this, and as a result of the Greenwitch and the Greenwitch ceremony itself, this book echoes of women throughout. There are moment when Jane is, well, wet (no pun intended) but others where she is vivid and moving and somehow rather intensely appealing. I like Jane. I am Team Jane.

I remain struck by Cooper’s ferocity in her writing, the way she can distil such intense, pure rage in some sentences and yet throw others out like birds riding a current of hot air, lilting and romantic and moving in their elegant simplicity.

And the way she throws in tiny, beautiful moments without signposting them in the text, the way she makes people just do things that are magical, and crazy, and mystical, and maddening, and they just do it because that is what they do. The most practical sorts of magic and magery.

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The Dark is Rising : Susan Cooper

The Dark Is Rising (The Dark is Rising, #2)The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So I am working my way through the Dark Is Rising sequence at present, and now is the turn of The Dark Is Rising itself. I am struck, struck, struck by the ferocious nature of Cooper’s prose throughout these books; a prose which is both eloquent and vicious and raging against the dying of the light and the darkness of the worlds.

The Dark Is Rising is Will Stanton’s story, and in a way it is his story that he was destined to always have and to always be at the heart of. There are echoes in this story, echoes of lives lived and lives to be lived, and Will is one of those echoes. He is an Old One, and as an Old One, he is pre-destined to be part of the battle between the Light and the Dark. Will Stanton has a very specific part to play in this struggle and play it, he will and he must.

Cooper’s wildly eloquent, occasionally vicious, and fearless prose hit me in the first book and swings, spectacularly, to new heights. She is not afraid of fear, or of terror, both for Will and the reader, and The Dark Is Rising is rich with fear. It is impossible to not be unnerved by this book, this magnificently edgy book which makes snow terrifying and birds, the formed-of-shadows rook, something spectral and horrific.

I am caught by this series and I am caught by the richness of it, and the way Cooper throws her story out, like a fisherwoman casting a net, and draws you back with it, into it, and makes you part of it.

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Over Sea, Under Stone : Susan Cooper

Over Sea, Under Stone (The Dark is Rising, #1)Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As the Cornwall part of my #readyourwayaroundtheUK challenge, I decided to read my first ever Susan Cooper. I know, I know, it’s not before time, right?

Cooper is one of those writers who has always been present in my children’s literature consciousness (and oh, how I suddenly want to map my children’s literature consciousness, a Jolly Postman-esque hybrid of boarding school and ponies and wizards and everything KM Peyton ever wrote), and it is not without some trepidation that I approached this, this book written by the great Cooper, part of the great Dark Is Rising sequence, great to me who had never ever even read them but had had this greatness seep into her over time and reading of other things. But that’s the great joy of a challenge such as this, crowd-sourced in a substantial way, where I am presented with books that I would not think of but when people think of place X, they think of Book Y. And Cooper’s books appeared quite solidly, quite vividly from several places in such a dominating nature, that it was hard to ignore such a clarion call.

And so, to Over Sea, Under Stone.

Perhaps, my friends, reading at midnight, the darkest and stormiest of midnights, is not the best thing to do with this book. Cooper has a great gift for a very straightforward sort of prose that tingles the spine and makes you treble lock the doors. And I found it strangely British, thickly British in places, reminiscent of so many others (or, which I suspect, those others are reminiscent of this); a group of children are on holiday in Cornwall. They find a map, tucked away in the dustiest and most secret part of their house, and are then embroiled in a quest to find the thing this map leads too.

This is British, this story of children banding together, of fractious siblings and of mysterious older relatives, but Cooper’s mythology, of Arthur and of Merlin and of the stories that built these islands, it all brings it to another level. (Oh I am abusing commas in this review!) What she does is, I think, she exploits that thinness between the worlds. And she does it with a deft confident believability. There’s no doubt in this book, no narratorial trepidation. This is simply how things are and the children are now part of this. The text believes this, so ferociously at points, that you can do nothing but agree.

It is a surprising, startling, terrifying book with a coda that made me curl with excitement over the other books in the series yet to be read.

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King of Shadows – Susan Cooper.

King of ShadowsKing of Shadows by Susan Cooper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh this is good.

The protagonist, Nat Field, is a young actor who has come over to play at the Globe with his company. Somehow he goes to bed feeling ill and then wakes up in Shakespearean England. With Shakespeare. The rest of the novel is concerned with his adventures in this time period and also what happens when he returns to his ‘normal’ life.

And like I said, it’s very very good. There’s a heartrending moment when Nat almost falls in love with Shakespeare and Cooper conveys this hero worship with kindness and a light, nonjudgemental touch. There’s a lot of warmth throughout the text, Nat and his love of his work, and Cooper and her patent love for Shakespeare.

The ending is excellent, genuinely so, but I can see how it may prove divisive. It’s admittedly stagey but that reflects the topic of the book quite well so I felt it fitted. This is the only part where it lost a mark for me.

One of my pet hates with time-travel or historic books is that the side detail overwhelms the central thread of the story. Didn’t happen here. What detail there was was very seamless and nicely interwoven. Good work all round and well worth a read.

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