Book Reviews Old School Wednesdays

Old School Wednesdays: The Dark is Rising (The Dark is Rising Sequence #2) by Susan Cooper

Old School Wednesdays is a weekly Book Smugglers feature. We came up with the idea towards the end of 2012, when both Ana and Thea were feeling exhausted from the never-ending inundation of New and Shiny (and often over-hyped) books. What better way to snap out of a reading fugue than to take a mini-vacation into the past?

Old School Wednesdays Final

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This week, Ana tackles the second book in The Dark is Rising Sequence.

Title: The Dark is Rising

Author: Susan Cooper

Genre: Children, Fantasy

Publisher: Multiple publishers over the years
Publication date: First published in 1973 (almost ten years after the first book
Paperback: about 272 Pages

The Dark is Rising

“When the Dark comes rising, six shall turn it back, Three from the circle, three from the track; Wood, bronze, iron; water, fire, stone; Five will return, and one go alone.” Will Stanton turns 11 and learns from Merriman Lyon, the Lady, and Circle of Old Ones, that he must find six Sign symbols and battle the Black Rider, blizzard and flood.

Standalone or series: Second book in The Dark Is Rising sequence

How did I get this book: Bought

Format (e- or p-): Print



It came to pass that I finally read the Over Sea, Under Stone, the first book in the Dark is Rising Sequence a couple of weeks ago and I really liked it. Most of all, I liked the fact that the review generated good discussion from enthusiastic fans of the series. It made me want to continue pronto so we can all talk about it.

SO. Here we are. Let’s.

When the Dark comes rising, six shall turn it back.
Three from the circle, three from the track;
Wood, bronze, iron; water, fire, stone;
Five will return, and one go alone.

The Directive: It’s almost Christmas time in good old England and on his 11th birthday Will Stanton is told by Merlin Merriman and The Lady that he is not just a young boy. He is, just like them, one of the Old Ones – a circle of special people (?) tasked (?) by the Light to fight the Dark. And The Dark is Rising. One more time. Perhaps for the last time and because it’s the last time ever (maybe), all the Objects of Power must be brought together for One Last Stand (possibly).

A Game of Signs: Will is the appointed, destined Sign-Seeker and must collect six signs that together form the Circle of Six Signs, one of four objects of Power (one of them being the Grail found by the Drew kids in Over Sea, Under Stone).

Thumbs Down: For the fact that the signs basically fall on Will’s lap so easily he might as well have been called the Sign Collector because there was really no seeking whatsoever here.

For the vague, infuriating world-building that often made no sense, since it was based on “Because”. WHY Will? Because. Why is he the only Old One that is actually a Young One? Because. Why is he the only one to appear to have been reincarnated? Because. Why did it all have to happen on his eleventh birthday? Because. Why AT THIS GREAT TIME OF PERIL, it is a child who knows nothing John Snow and still has to learn everything about his past, history and powers very fast (so fast), the One who is tasked to Save the World? This seems like such a counterproductive way to go about this, no wonder this fight has been going for so long. Get your act together, Light.

And I know, ok, I know fully well this is A Fantasy Trope (The Destined Chosen One) but it’s one that always frustrates me if not interrogated or subverted somehow.

Not Enough Ladies. Not even The Lady.

On the Subject of Will: One of the things that I thought most interesting when reading the comments on that first review was how Will was such a divisive character: some loved him, some thought he was super boring. I like Will and even though he seems to be a pawn in the Light’s game, the fact that he is an old man trapped in the body of a child torn between two different families – his Old one and his real one – was rather heart-wrenching in its possibilities. I didn’t think this was explored to its fullest potential but here is hoping as the series continues this will come into play.

Thumbs Way Up: TIME TRAVEL!

For the atmosphere – I often could feel the cold and the wonderful build up to the Christmas holidays. I got goosebumps when the ending came, and the dead king rose and the Wild Hunt galloped.

For Will’s family dynamics – it is one of my favourite things from both books so far, especially the relationship between siblings.



Hermione approved.

50 Shades of Grey: Possibly the best thing about this novel is Walker/Hawkin. This is where the story was at its strongest for me because of the fairly explicit implications stemming from this character’s arc. For all its vagary and the fact that this a Chosen One story with the Light destined to fight the Dark because the Dark is so Bad, the thing is: the Light is not so squeaky clean is it? Take Walker for example, and the fact that his character was groomed by the Light as friend when in fact he was nothing but a pawn to die if necessary. He is betrayed by the Light – by his mentor/best friend/father figure Merriman – and when he understandably questions his affiliations (wouldn’t you?) he is cast-off, cursed to walk the Earth for 600 years, out of his own time, carrying the heavy burden of Betrayal and the Bronze Sign. Wow, Light, what a Darkish move.

LET’S NOT FORGET: How the Light likes to erase people’s memories when convenient.

Regrets: That I didn’t read this over the Christmas holidays because if there was ever a book that was made to be read over the Christmas holidays, this is it.

Next: Yay, the Drew siblings are back for the third instalment, Greenwitch. Let’s all reconvene here on this Smuggler-channel on March 04. Yes?

Buy the Book:

(click on the links to purchase)


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  • mary
    February 11, 2015 at 11:48 am

    Yes, definitely don’t forget how the Light likes to erase peoples’ memories! This will be important (and, IMHO, supremely annoying) later. However, “Greenwitch” is next! Yay! That is my favorite in the series, and I’m looking forward to your review.

  • brigid
    February 11, 2015 at 12:54 pm

    Alright, you just hurled me back into the past! Thanks for the review! I loved TDIR this as a tween, especially the beautifully evocative winter and magical scenes, although I have faint childhood memories at being slightly irritated with the many mysterious adults — i.e, not enough kids, no real kid companions — in this book. You want more ladies? See Greenwitch. Then you need to review this too, because again, those faint childhood memories! Back then I was thinking, finally! a girl like me! Yet I remember being irritated at the vaguely wussy characterisation of the FMC who seemed to be (this is not a spoiler:) about feels and reaction and Female Wisdom rather than kickassery, decisions and action.

  • Octavia
    February 11, 2015 at 1:10 pm

    Yeah, this is the one where the Light starts to get really bloody Dark. Not just the bit with Hawking – although that’s the worst of it here, it’s positively sadistic – but that this 11 year old, Will, is absolutely prepared to sacrifice his own sister if he has to, because collateral damage, essentially.

    I love the family relationships here as well though – especially that between Will and James. I love that James acknowledges will has the better voice, absolutely without grudge, because he’s genuinely “a fair-minded boy”. I like that they’re siblings who get along and stick up for each other – which is a continual theme throughout the series.

  • Octavia
    February 11, 2015 at 2:35 pm

    And I’d like to add that that line I reference above about James? James is the reason I could never warm to you, Ron Weasley, you jealous little shit.

    (I’ve often wondered just how much influence the Stantons had on the Weasleys…)

  • Julie
    February 11, 2015 at 7:12 pm

    I am so glad you are continuing to review the rest of the series–looking forward to March 4th.
    I too find the Walker/Hawkin character story to be the most poignant part of the story.
    Just a heads up, there continues to be lots of time travel in the rest of the series!

  • Elaine T
    February 11, 2015 at 8:11 pm

    What gave you the idea Will is a reincarnation of someone? I totally didn’t get that from the book.

    On the Light… somewhere I read that Cooper’s conception of the Light was the harsh, deadly force of the atomic blasts that ended WWII – she was young then, and they made a great impression. At the time I hadn’t reread the series for a long time, but that made me pick it up again, and boy howdy does that fit the more morally repugnant things we see. (I hate mucking with memories.)

    I also love the family interactions, not just the siblings, but them with the parents, too.

  • Ana
    February 12, 2015 at 5:12 am

    Elaine T:

    What gave you the idea Will is a reincarnation of someone? I totally didn’t get that from the book.

    Ah, that’s a good question. That was the way I interpreted it: the Old Ones seemed to know who was he was and when he turned 11 it sounds as though he gained knowledge he had before so in my head I read this as Will had been alive before (in a previous incarnation of himself) then somehow died and was born again the Stanton family! Does that make sense to anybody else?

  • Estara Swanberg
    February 13, 2015 at 5:23 pm

    Yes the winter mood, and the whiplash between the fight of dark and light and the Stanton family – and Hawkin. I think this may be the book that actually introduced me to grey shades in my fantasy reading. It definitely was the book that made me start reading in English as only this of all five had been translated into German (exquisitely well at that) and there was a magazine article that mentioned it was a whole series, so I made my mum import the Penguin paperback edition for me ^^. I’ll always love the series just for that 😀

  • Megan
    February 16, 2015 at 8:39 pm

    Great review! I’ve read this one many times (although it’s admittedly been a few years since my last re-read), and I’ve never intepreted Will as being a reincarnation. My impression is that he’s the last Old One to be born, and that the others have all been waiting for him, which is why all of the other Old Ones are well aware of who he is, his task, etc. Merriman and Will are both set apart in the series as “special”– as Oldest and Youngest together.

    I always had the sense that this was his first time learning from the Book of Gramarye– if there were hints that it was familiar (which I’m forgetting), I wonder if it might be more indicative of the “collective unconscious” that all of the Old Ones seem to tap into… An interesting idea though!

    Excited that you’ll be continuing on in the series. It’s such a longstanding favourite of mine.

  • Ana
    February 17, 2015 at 4:54 am

    This is FASCINATING. I just realised how often I ascribe things to REINCARNATION. I didn’t read the book like that at all, Megan but your interpretation makes so much more sense.

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