on 13 August 2001
This is my favorite book out of the series, and a large part of that is because it's set in Wales. I have a weakness for the place, most probably because I'm part Welsh, and the places she has used are all described so perfectly. Cooper is a master bard. She makes one see in the mind what she writes about, and that is no mean feat in a world such as ours! Will comes to Wales to convalesce, but he is troubled by snatches or memories he does not quite recall. His mind reawakens, and the adventure begins agains. Bran is a marvelous character, and I remember simply bursting at the seams when I found out exactly who he was at the end! I first read this book when I was twelve, and I now own the series. I'm 22, and I still read these books annually, if not more. The Grey King excells in pulling together many of the various Arthurian legends, but Cooper does it in such a fresh and lovely way. Prepare to get your socks blown off by this amazing book!
on 9 June 2006
"...Those men who know anything at all about the Light also know that there is a fierceness to its power, like the bare sword of the law, or the white burning of the sun...at the very heart, that is. Other things, like humanity, and mercy, and charity, that most good men hold more precious than all else, they do not come first for the Light. Oh, sometimes they are there; often indeed. But in the very long run the concern of you people is with the absolute good, ahead of all else...At the centre of the Light there is a cold white flame, just as at the centre of the Dark there is a great black pit bottomless as the Universe."
- a mortal speaking as a free agent to an Old One of the Light, herein
And of all the books in the series, THE GREY KING perhaps illustrates that detachment of the Light from mortal charity more clearly than any book before it since THE DARK IS RISING, with the hard choices it presented to the Old Ones between their duty to the Light and their private obligations to those they loved. Here, however, the choices made are by mortals, from a man who traded away his allegiance in the hope of becoming a great poet to a woman who left her only child among strangers, one of them a man forever marked in turn by her choices.
In each book of this series, either a previously unknown quantity among the major protagonists of the overall story is introduced to the reader, or familiar protagonists from different volumes work together for the first time. In each case, this serves not only to help join together the mundane waking world with the deeper reality of the battleground between the Light and the Dark, but to re-ground readers in the story so far, thus allowing each volume to function as an independent story as well as part of the greater whole.
In THE GREY KING, the Drews do not appear, and an even greater absence casts a shadow on the story - only the youngest of the Old Ones is an active participant, facing the Brenin Llwyd, the Grey King, the greatest Lord of the Dark whose reasons for binding himself to one small part of Wales is beginning to become horribly apparent. And Will Stanton must achieve this quest independently, having only the clues provided by the outcome of an earlier quest and such mortals as he can trust, who live on or near the farm in Wales where Will has been sent to recover from a serious illness. Several of these mortals are unusually perceptive and have their own roles to play in the quest, which this time is not to gain a tool of power for its own sake as a weapon or a defence, but as a stepping stone to more mysterious ends.
At first I was disappointed to find that Alex Jennings (who narrates the other four volumes' unabridged audio editions) wasn't the reader for THE GREY KING, but I decided to take a chance and get Richard Mitchley's recording of this book, trusting that there was a reason for the change, especially when Jennings was tapped for the next (and final) book in sequence.
I now understand the publishers' decision; THE GREY KING needed a narrator who could speak Welsh (not one of Jennings' strengths). I like Mitchley (particularly as Bran Davies) while still enjoying Jennings on the pre-existing characters. Sigh - if only they'd jointly narrated the last two books so I could've had it both ways...
on 5 October 2009
I am involved in a group read that is working through this series, so I re-read this book for the first time in what must be more than 20 years. As a child I loved it and read and re-read the book, to the point that I still had a vivid memory of some of the scenes. On re-erading it I rediscovered some scenes I had forgotten.
Susan Cooper has written a classic series, with an incredible sweep of imagination, and such an enduring appeal that some of the things she invents in these books are even being remembered as a kind of new folk lore! For instance, the association between Cader Idris and King Arthur is actually quite modern, but these days anyone will tell you that the mountain is Arthur's seat! That tells you how widely these books have been read and are still read.
And so they should be read. The stories areclassics. This one rightly one a Newbery award. It is not quite the perfect children's book that the earlier "The Dark is Rising" is, but there were aspects of this book that made me almost ache as a child! I remember when I first read the start of this book, where Will Stanton wakes up from a fever grasping at a memory that he has lost. That was, for me as a boy, an incredibly powerful way to start this story - and the rediscovery, followed by the mystery around the boy, Bran, all worked perfectly driving to the conclusion.
Caradog Prichard is an annoying nasty character that had me feeling terrible righteous anger - and he is but the helper of the real antagonist - the Grey King.
What is more, the location of this story in the beautiful Dysynni valley was so perfect for anyone who has ever visited that part of wales. The landscape of that valley just evokes mystery and a feeling that this is the centre of some old and wonderful legend.
On the downside, this book was written in the 1970s and in places the dialogue sounds a little clunky to 21st century ears. Will Stanton uses phrases like "Good Lord, no". The Welsh is also rather formal and uncolloquial (not that a non Welsh speaker will care about that!) But just because the book is now 40 years old does not mean it is any less a good read. Children still read all kinds of other books from that generation - and this series should be among them.
Suitable for ages about 10 and up, and it was something of a cult book when I was at University too, so there are no upper limits here.
on 13 April 2008
Yet another enchanting story from Susan Cooper in The Dark is Rising Sequence, her Arthurian legend fantasy series. `The Grey King' is book 4, out of a total of 5.
In `The Grey King' young Will Stanton is sent to stay with family on a remote farm in the Welsh hills, to recover from a serious illness. Here he meets and befriends a local boy, Bran, and his dog Cafall. Bran is no ordinary young boy but is albino, and from their first meeting he recognises Will as one of the Old Ones, guardians of the Light against the powers of the Dark. The Dark is rising and Will soon realises that he has been brought to Wales to complete the task of raising the last great defence of the Light, before the great battle of Dark and Light takes place (book 5).
`Fire on the mountain shall find the harp of gold
Played to wake the Sleepers, oldest of the old...'
In this task Will needs to unravel the words of an old rhyme which contains the clues for his quest, and he also needs the help of his new friend, Bran, who may have more powers than he at first realises... The two boys will need all the help they can get against the dangerous malevolent powers of The Grey King.
Written in a very credible and almost believable way, `The Grey King' was winner of the Newbery Medal in 1975 and is one of my favourites in the series.
This is a good novel, well written that keeps you wanting more. The story is easy to follow and on the whole, the book is easy to read. It says it is suitable for 12 years + which I would say is about right (although I am a bit older...by about 30 years!). There is a bit of "darkness" involved and given that it takes place in our own British surroundings, some younger children might find it a bit disturbing. I bought this book in my search for a story I read at the age of about 10-12, that I wanted to share with my son; I am not sure this is the one, but I have enjoyed reading it nonetheless. I hope you find this useful.
"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.
on 19 May 2000
I'm shocked that one writer from California's 11 year old child struggled with this book. I first read it when I was 10 years old (I was educated in a run down state-provided inner city school in Glasgow, Scotland) and found it magical and compelling. I'm now 35 years old and have re-read this book countless times since. Not as good as "The Dark Is Rising", but still wonderful reading for any child with an active imagination who's brain is not befuddled with too much TV and too many computer games.
on 19 March 2016
Bought to re-read using the kindle. A great series of books that I read as a child and revisit occasionally. The dialogue will probably seem a little old fashioned but the content and storyline make for a magical and exciting series. I loved this series as a child and still love it now.
on 20 July 1999
The journey of Will Stanton continues as on the day of the dead, he, the youngest, opens the oldest hills through the door of the birds. Then fire flys from the Welsh 'raven boy' Bran when his dog's silver eyes see the wind and the Light has it's harp of gold. Will becomes ill and has to make a trip to Wales to recover. He meets up with a Welsh boy Bran and travels through a quest that only he may do. But without his master Merriman can he make it? For Will is no ordinary boy but last born into the circle of the light and the 'Old Ones'. But his friend Bran is also not so ordinary for he is the Pendragon(King Arthur's son)who was brought to this other time and other world. Enchanting story for all ages above 11.
on 9 February 1999
In this book it gives detail,action and mystery. The Grey King is a legend about two boys named Will and Bran who are on a quest to find a golden harp and destroy all evil.If you like action you'll like this book!