Book Reviews Old School Wednesdays

Old School Wednesdays: The Grey King (The Dark is Rising Sequence #4) by Susan Cooper

Ana has been reading The Dark Is Rising Sequence for the past few months. Today, she takes on book 4, The Grey King.

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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Title: The Grey King

Author: Susan Cooper

Genre: Children, Fantasy

Publisher: Multiple publishers over the years
Publication date: First published in 1975
Paperback: 192 Pages

The Grey King

With the final battle between the Light and the Dark soon approaching, Will sets out on a quest to call for aid. Hidden within the Welsh hills is a magical harp that he must use to wake the Sleepers – six noble riders who have slept for centuries.

But an illness has robbed Will of nearly all his knowledge of the Old Ones, and he is left only with a broken riddle to guide him in his task. As Will travels blindly through the hills, his journey will bring him face-to-face with the most powerful Lord of the Dark – the Grey King. The King holds the harp and Sleepers within his lands, and there has yet to be a force strong enough to tear them from his grasp…

Standalone or series: Fourth 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 few 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.
Reviews so far:

Over Sea, Under Stone
The Dark Is Rising

Previously on Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising: THE DARK IS RISING with a final, no holds-barred effort to take over the world. But the Light and the Old Ones have something up their sleeves: THE THINGS OF POWER. The Drew siblings found the Grail, then lost it then found it again with the help of the Greenwitch. Will Stanton, the last of the Old Ones and Sign Seeker, has found the Circle of Signs. THE DARK IS STILL RISING.

The Directive: Will Stanton, memoryless after a near fatal illness goes off to Wales to spend time with his family in order to get better. He soon recovers his memory and realises he has A Quest: to find the Golden Harp. With the help of a mysterious boy named Bran (who might or might not be closely related to this whole Dark is Rising thing), Will needs to fight against the forces of the Dark and the Grey King. Will Will be able to get the Thing to do the Thing?

Completely Unironic Usage of Words: you gotta admire a series that talks about Things of Power and Old One Senses completely unironically.

Late on the uptake: when Bran’s identity is revealed in the end it finally hit me how this is all so ARTHURIAN. I know, it did take me this long. You would think that all the Merlin and Grail talk would have given me a clue. This might explain why my feelings for this endeavour have been so tepid so far, I am not a huge fan of Arthurian legends and motifs.

With that said.

Thumbs WAY Up: The Grey King is my favourite book so far and for the first time I felt actually emotionally connected to the series as a whole. It was a mixture of the Welsh background and legends I think and the fact that for the first time, I felt the sting of MY EMOTIONS when the story went there. This book won the Newbery Medal and we all know that DEATH BY NEWBERY MEDAL is a thing. Orphaned children and dead dogs are THE WORST (and people who know me know I don’t even care that much about pets in fiction. SORRY). They are also the worst because they are easy, effortless, cop-out-y ways of hitting you where it matters.

Plus, the introduction of a new interesting character in Bran: OH Bran, you are so full of pain and I love you.

Yes, there were frustrating moments: it was super easy to defeat the Dark this round, like always. The circumstances around the securing of the Harp which included an underwhelming “quest” and riddle-answering. I mean, are they really riddles if you don’t have to work for the answers since they were given to you by the special forces of the Light? Eye-rolling moment: Will and Bran “knew deep inside the answers”. Whatever.

But this book showed me that the series is rather self-aware. Take this monologue said by John Rowlands, one of the side characters:

Those men who know anything at all about the Light also know that there is a fierceness to its power, like the bare sword of the law, or the white burning of the sun. At the very heart, that is. Other things, like humanity, and mercy, and charity, that most good men hold more precious than all else, they do not come first for the Light. Oh, sometimes they are there; often, indeed. But in the very long run the concern of you people is with the absolute good, ahead of all else. You are like fanatics. Your masters, at any rate. At the centre of the Light there is a cold white flame, just as at the centre of the Dark there is a great black pit bottomless as the universe.

Will found himself right at the centre of this conundrum: torn between his personal feelings for Bran (more on that later) and his mission for the greater good. It is even heavily implied by Will that it was the Light that made him ill in order to have him sent to Wales on his quest. Completely unnecessary of course, but it shows the story is willing to make an effort.

And then we have the fantastic dynamics and banter between Bran and Will which was sheer fun. With all that and the “whispered softly” in each other’s ears, I bet there are tons of slash fic of these two (hopefully these feature them when they are a bit older, as they are like, 12 year old kids here *shudder*).

Thumbs WAY DOWN: no Ladies! After Greenwitch I was so enthused about the ladies in the series. But there is none here – unless you count the few words uttered by Will’s aunt and the background TRAGEDY related to Bran’s mom? Beyond that, no ladies anywhere.

No Drew Siblings either.

Regrets: That Bran did not appear in this series from the start.

Next: Silver on the Tree, the final book in the series on April 15, on this same Old School Channel.

Buy the Book:

(click on the links to purchase)


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  • Anonymous
    March 18, 2015 at 9:58 am

    Tons of slashfic, yes. Some of the better ones: (subtle), (strange), (mythical).

  • Irina
    March 18, 2015 at 9:59 am

    Eek, that was me, didn’t mean to be anonymous. I didn’t write any of those but I get these fits of fanfic-reading so I knew where they were.

  • Dolorosa
    March 18, 2015 at 11:12 am

    That quote from John Rowlands highlights something I think the series gets better at articulating as it progresses: namely, that the greatest difference is not between Light and Dark, but rather between Light/Dark and humanity. The Light and the Dark are so implacably unchanging, whereas human beings are fuzzy, messy and complicated, and they change. There’s a kind of common clarity about the Light and the Dark, a sort of singleminded focus that Cooper tries to contrast with human contrariness. John Rowlands in that quote describes it as fanaticism, and I think that’s very accurate.

    I hope that makes sense. All that by way of saying I love this series, and I love this book in particular, so it makes me happy to see you reviewing it.

  • Angie
    March 18, 2015 at 11:26 am

    Huzzah! My favorite in the series (and I really do adore Greenwitch and Silver on the Tree). But Bran. And Cafall. And WALES. My fave no question.

  • Octavia
    March 18, 2015 at 3:29 pm

    Yes, John Rowlands is the best. He comes off very well indeed in “Silver on the Tree” as well. (I’ve always thought that he was the true hero of the series.)

    “The Grey King” was my favourite as well. Bran and his dog and the growing narrative awareness that the Light is pretty dodgy too, when it comes down to it. My little ten year old self struggled with this for a while, and then gave up and embraced the cynicism.

  • Ana
    March 19, 2015 at 5:55 am

    I think I am at a point where I am actually looking forward to the next entry – I will admit it hadn’t happened so far. I am really intrigued by these thoughts on John Rowlands.


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