Review – The Dark is Rising Sequence – Susan Cooper

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Hello Internet. Welcome back for Review #42. Despite missing out on one of the most amazingly-timed Douglas Adams references ever, I have returned with something completely different. But yeah, I’m still a hoopy frood who knows where his towel is.

The Dark is Rising sequence is called a contemporary fantasy novel. This means it’s in a fantasy subdivision which doesn’t quite class as urban or low fantasy but isn’t as detached from the real world to be a high fantasy novel. And to be perfectly honest, since categorising books into niche genres is quite pointless today anyway, I’m going to call it a “Chosen One” story. Because, sci-fi, fantasy or detective story, the Chosen One is always, without fail, the protagonist. Even apparent aversions like Deltora Quest spring this one on you. And you know what? The Dark is Rising sequence (and of course, the later series Harry Potter, which clearly draws inspiration from this series) is an example of a Chosen One story being done well. And before you say it, yeah, I do have a quota of how much good I’m allowed to say about something.

Look. The Dark is Rising sequence is well written. The story is, if not constantly enthralling, then at least very, very good. I completely understood most of what was going on until the last book, where I gave up trying to follow everything and just hung on for the ride. I mean, I read the books out of order originally, starting with the second one (which I recommend you read first because the first one has different, more boring characters irrelevant to the plot until the third book), so I kind of got an experience out of the novel most readers don’t get, but I liked the main character enough to bear through book one, and the three other books fell into place.

Does The Dark is Rising sequence have its bad moments? Yes. Are they ultimately down to getting Cerebus Syndrome (which I’ve probably called something else in the past) and forgetting to reconstruct the many fantasy tropes it uses? Most of them, yeah. Does this lessen the fact that it’s a major Trope Codifier for the Chosen One genre? Not at all, and I should stop asking rhetorical questions, they’re starting to get on my nerves. But the fact remains that this book is very under-appreciated. It won a series (pun?) of awards both when it came out and in the late nineties and early 2000s, but every bibliophile knows these mean next to squat when it comes down to it. So this is a good series with a lot of effort gone into it which is dare I say (gods below, stop me if I ever use another cliché in my life) criminally under-appreciated.

Before I start another paragraph with “so, yeah”, let me prattle on about the final cherry on the cake. The second book in this series was given to me by a family member, with the disclaimer that the second one was “easier to get into”. Which was good advice (see above). Of course, I needed to read the first one anyway, to make sense of the third book. And the fact that the Dumbledore/Gandalf figure has his identity disguised in the first book, I picked it immediately thanks to my anachronistic reading. So let this be a warning! Reading out of sequence (pun!) when tackling a fantasy series leads to dangerous foreknowledge.

Over Sea, Under Stone was published in 1965 by Jonathan Cape. The collected series can be found on Amazon here.

Yours: J.M. Pear

Review – The Dark is Rising Sequence – Susan Cooper