It’s the seventh Series Week! Join me as I review the Dark is Rising sequence this week!
Over Sea, Under Stone is the first book in the Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper. It was published in 1965 by Harcourt.
“On holiday in Cornwall, the three Drew children discover an ancient map in the attic of the house that they are staying in. They know immediately that it is special. It is even more than that—the key to finding a grail, a source of power to fight the forces of evil known as the Dark. And in searching for it themselves, the Drews put their very lives in peril.”
Even though this is the first book in the Dark is Rising sequence, it’s actually not necessary to read this book. The style is vastly different, the mythology isn’t as pronounced, and everything that happens in this book is explained in Greenwitch, the third book. Cooper didn’t even have the whole series fleshed out when she wrote this book (presumably), since The Dark is Rising was published eight years after this one.
However, Over Sea, Under Stone is still a really fun “British children have adventures at the seaside” book and it does introduce us to characters that appear again in Greenwitch—namely, Simon, Jane, and Barney. It also gives a hint at the background of “Gumerry,” as the children call him, and who he is—or who he was, in any case.
The villains in this book start out as slightly cartoonish, in a vaguely menacing, “we wear white because we don’t want you to know we’re evil,” mask kind of way. But then towards the end of the book they get legitimately scary, especially Hastings. Cooper also pulls a “surprise villain” twist that nearly upsets the children’s and Merry’s plans and makes what should be a joyous parade into something much more sinister.
I do think the book had a slightly weak ending, which could have been stronger if Cooper had ended about two pages earlier, right after Barney muses about Merry. That would have been a wonderful way to finish the book, but unfortunately, it does continue for a little bit longer and the force of that revelation is weakened as a result.
Recommended Age Range: 10+
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade, Realistic
The paper Barney had unrolled was not paper at all, but a kind of thick brownish parchment, springy as steel, with long raised cracks crossing it where it had been rolled. Inside it, another sheet was stuck down: darker, looking much older, ragged at the edges, and covered with small writing in strange squashed-looking dark brown letters.
Below the writing it dwindled, as if it had been singed by some great heat long ago, into half-detached pieces carefully laid back together and stuck to the outer sheet. But there was enough of it left for them to see at the bottom a rough drawing that looked like the uncertain outline of a map.
For a moment they were all very quiet. Barney said nothing, but he could feel a strange excitement bubbling up inside him.