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Arthurian secrets, dark magic, the eternal clash of good versus evil, and a bunch of E. Nesbittian kids on an adventure.
While Susan Cooper's "Over Sea Under Stone" is perhaps the weakest of the "Dark is Rising" books, it's a solid little fantasy story on its own. It's a sprightly, fast-moving little story without much complexity, but the depiction of the genuinely spooky villains and the ancient treasure-hunt are pretty gripping little subplots -- and of course, it sets the stage for the brilliant sequels.
Simon, Jane and Barney Drew have arrived at their great-uncle Merriman's seaside house for a vacation -- and rapidly become quite bored. But when exploring the attic, they unearth a very, very old map that is somehow connected with the legendary King Arthur. As anyone else would do, the kids begin the search to find a golden grail.
But they soon find that they are not the only ones who want the map. A seemingly genial pair of vacationers are being slightly too inquisitive, and someone breaks into Merriman's house in search of the map. And Merriman reveals the origins of the map -- and an ages-old conflict between good and evil that hinges on who finds the grail first.
Taken alone, "Over Sea Under Stone" is a solid, even excellent fantasy story; as part of a series, a little out of sync with the other books. However it sets excellent groundwork, has an intriguing storyline and a good mix of folklore and Arthuriana, and offers us one of the most mysterious and likable "magic mentors," Merriman Lyon. Say "Merry Lyon" really fast and see what you get.
It starts off with every kid's fantasy -- treasure maps and ancient kings -- and rapidly blossoms into something that hints at an endless, epic clash between the Dark and the Light. But it never gets too heavy -- Cooper's writing is plain and workmanlike, heavy on the chirpy dialogue between the kids, but with the occasional spurt of bright, evocative prose or snatch of memorable poetry.
The Drew kids are very much the standard kids you find in British children's stories -- plucky, peppy and determined to forge on ahead even if they have little idea what they're doing. They feel rather interchangeable at times, but are pleasant enough to read about. Merriman is a solid counterpoint, a pleasant humorous old man whose demeanor hints that still waters run deep; he's more aware than anyone else of what's going on. As for the villains, they are soaked in a sense of foreboding.
While "Over Sea, Under Stone" lacks the powerful magical presence of its sequels, it is still a pretty entertaining, well-written little fantasy -- treasure, magic, and the legacy of a king.Read more ›