Sunday, January 24, 2016

Over Sea Under Stone by Susan Cooper

Over Sea, Under Stone (The Dark is Rising, #1)Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first novel in the Dark Is Rising sequence, a five book seiries published from 1965 to 1977, is perhaps the story most directed to younger audiences. The principal characters in the story are Simon, Jane, and Barney Drew. Their family is visiting a fishing village in Cornwall called Trewissick where they are meeting their great-uncle Merriman Lyon, renowned for his puzzling behavior and reputation for outlandish explorations. They are lodged at Grey House, and while exploring they find an old drawing, which they later decide is a treasure map. Barney, who is obsessed with Arthurian tales, discovers a relationship between the map and those old legends. Much of the novel deals with the mystery of how the map is solved.

Meanwhile, they also stumble into a war between two opposed powers: the Dark and the Light. The Dark is a widespread network of evil agents who are trying to destroy order in the universe, replacing it with regimes where power is achieved by force instead of reason. Opposed to the Dark are the forces of Light, who seem weaker, but are victorious when allied with courage and positivity. Their Grand-Uncle Merry, or Gumerry, is an agent of Light, and the village is crawling with dangerous members of the Dark who also desire the treasure to which the map leads. Thus is the lives of the Drew children put into jeopardy and the fun begins.

It is a lot of fun really. The innocence of the children and their inherent goodness endears the reader to them, and there is never any question whose side you should favor. For this reason, if you are looking for complexity and character moral conflict, you will find this story somewhat lacking. There are no gray lines here. Dark and Light are absolutes of Evil and Good. You could quibble and follow the logic of the Dark that attacks Merriman’s character (his actions are mysterious and his motives are perhaps more complex than he lets on), but the Drew children never falter. Anyway, my point is that this is far more like Tolkienesque absolutism than Westerosi relativity.

One thing I really liked were the characters. The children were very believable. I love Merriman too and the Vicar (one of the villains). The plot is relatively straightforward as you would expect given the audience. The moral conflict becomes a question of how bravery can overcome the forces of terror.

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