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Beware of the Greenwitch
on 31 December 2005
The middle book of the "Dark is Rising" sequence suffers a little from the middle-book syndrome, and a few items in it feel slightly strained. However, these are quickly swamped under by an unusual, well-written story and great character growth.
When a golden chalice (first found by the Drews in "Under Sea Over Stone") is stolen from its museum, the mysterious Old One Merriman enlists their help and the help of the youngest Old One, Will Stanton. At first, the kids don't really get along; things seem fairly uneventful, except for Jane participating in an ancient ritual in which the women of the village get together and weave a vaguely humanoid figure, the Greenwitch. The Greenwitch is then thrown into the sea, after people touch it and make a wish. Jane, followed by strange impressions of the Greenwitch, makes a very unusual wish.
But then her brothers and Will bump into someone else -- a strange painter who steals a picture of Barney's, and then lures the Drew boys into his home. He's a member of the Dark, and he forces Barney to scry out a message about the Grail for him. Then a strange, wild chaos strikes the town, with a ghost ship and the angry Greenwitch herself...
While this book is not the best of the series (the second takes that honor), it nevertheless is an excellent piece of work, as fantasy and as a study of the characters. The first chapter was a little weak; it felt too much like a part of "Over Sea Under Stone." However, this ceases as soon as Will comes on to the scene. The book then takes on a tone that seems, somehow, to balance out between the cheery children-on-holiday writing, and the chilling fantasy epic.
The Drews are better fleshed out and individualized in this book. Jane proves that Cooper is one of the few fantasy writers who can create genuinely strong female characters; this is, in a sense, her book, with her thoughts and motives as the key to the whole Greenwitch debacle. Consider it a moral message, though not a hamhanded one.
One of the more fascinating character is Will. He is clearly more comfortable with his role as an Old One, as he is more knowledgeable and smoother at handling situations with the Dark. At the same time, he's also able to shift into being a preteen boy, tapping Morse code to the Drew kids through the wall.
The writing in this book is versatile, becoming dreamy, stark, magical, frightening, or ordinary as the scene requires. Cooper takes readers under the sea, into nightmares and under a pirate attack when reality goes out of whack. Cooper's versions of magic tend to be deep, ancient and sometimes very unpredictable.
While "Greenwitch" has a slightly twee beginning, the "middle child" fantasy soon establishes itself as a chilling, enchanting fantasy. Cooper did well.