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This review is from: The Grey King (The Dark is Rising Sequence) (Paperback)
"The Dark Is Rising" is a hard book to top, but Susan Cooper nearly matches it in "Grey King." A stunning, atmospheric Welsh fantasy tinged with Arthurian legend, it also introduces one of the most important and unusual characters in the classic series.
In the aftermath of a nasty case of hepatitis, Will Stanton has temporarily forgotten his mission from the Light: to recover a golden harp, with the help of the "raven boy" and "silver eyes that see the wind." When his family sends him to Wales to recover from the illness, he regains his memory when he meets an albino boy his own age named Bran -- which means "raven." Bran's mother "Gwenny" vanished many years before, and his stepfather has devoted himself to religion and penitance. Bran's only friend is the silver-eyed dog Cafall.
Will acquaints his new friend with more information about the battle with the Dark, while Bran acquaints him with information about Wales that can help Will find the golden harp, and wake the Sleepers under the hill. But the malevolent Grey King is spying on them with magical warestones and trying to wrest the harp from Will. To stop the Grey King, Will must learn the secret of Bran's past and evade the dangerous farmer Caradog Pritchard...
Atmosphere is thick and enticing in "Grey King" -- Cooper has clearly come a long way from the fluffier "Over Sea Under Stone." This book, unlike "Greenwitch," does not handle the Drew family, or even much about Merriman: it's all about Bran and Will, who are given equal parts of the plotline. Though there are many other characters, these two are the core of the story.
Here the Arthurian theme, which has been present in a smaller way throughout the series, becomes more pronounced and integral. Cooper continues interweaving mythic elements into it, such as the Sleepers, Cafall the dog, and the Brenin Llwyd. Fans of mythology and other mythic-themed stories such as the Prydain Chronicles will have a heyday.
Will is very much like he is in "Greenwitch" -- sometimes he's an ordinary preteen boy who starts yelling "Achtung!" at the top of his lungs, and sometimes he is the wise and ancient Old One, with knowledge he learned from the book of Gramarye. Bran is an instantly sympathetic character, a very ordinary boy with an extraordinay past; he, like Will in the second book, gradually grows into a unique and more powerful person. Caradog Pritchard will inspire disgust from his first appearance onward, while the tragic Owen Davies will gain the sympathy of the readers despite his insulated life.
Perhaps the worst thing about reading "Grey King" is the knowledge that there is only one more book in this series. But if that book is half as good as "Grey King," then it will be quite a ride before the end.