The Grey King, Susan Cooper (1975): Wales Readathon 2019

“It is because you are not properly human, but one of the Old Ones of the Light put here to hold back the terrible power of the Dark. You are the last of that circle to be born on earth. And I have been waiting for you.”

 

greykingOne of the bonuses of joining the book blogging community is participating in special months or readalongs that expose me to new authors. In this case, I can honestly say I would probably not have read Susan Cooper’s, The Grey King had the Wales reading event, The Dewithon 2019, not come along.

Though this book is number four in a series I have not read, this did not seem to affect my reading experience: I read it in two sittings wholly drawn in by the storytelling. And though I may have missed some elements by not having read the previous books, especially regarding the eleven year-old protagonist Will Stanton and how he realized he was an Old One on his first full quest to overcome the rising Dark, the book worked fine as a stand alone title for me. For a full summary of the book, I recommend the Kirkus Review.

I choose this book for two reasons: one, the Wales setting, of course; and two, I wanted something fantasy-related as I thought I needed a little “light” reading at the moment. Ha! Let’s just say quests to overcome the Dark are far from light and I should have known!

Will Stanton comes to his relatives in Wales to convalesce after a bout with hepatitis. During his illness he was plagued by a delirium that filled his head with words and images he didn’t understand and now that he is well, can’t let go of them or a feeling of foreboding and something he is supposed to do about it. Once in Wales he awakens to the meaning of these signs and realizes he is on a mission, the details of which are not always obvious until he is in danger.

What makes the novel compelling is how gradually it is revealed to Will that many of those in the family he is staying with and their friends also have a part to play against this rising Dark. Yet, they as well do not know the extent of their role until called upon. So, the reader is carried along with the story, not knowing who is who until the final pages.

The book is based on Welsh legends that the people of the village have grown up with and talked about all of their lives. From the hills and mountains to the lakes, rock outcroppings, to magical beasts and fabled people the story is steeped in the mythology of this distinct place. And as Will goes about gaining strength it is obvious that his presence with these particular relatives is no coincidence; that he had to be here, in this place, at this time.

Will’s memory is gradually activated to specific tasks, to words of ancient spells in the Old Language and to the people around him and to what they mean for the quest. He senses the power of the Grey King, the rising Dark and how to fight it, the identity of the three-robed Old Ones, to the evil neighbor Caradog Prichard, the kindness of John Rowland and his deep knowledge of all the legends and tales of the land and to the final revelation of his friend and ally, Bran, and his true identity.

And as far as this final revelation of the whole quest and success of it, I have only three words: What. An. Ending….

A spoiler, of course, so I won’t say. But as I sat reading the last pages surprised and shocked, I thought, “Of COURSE, King Arthur would have a place in this story…of course!

A final note on Susan Cooper’s writing—which at times is wonderfully poetic and lyrical—the narrative is so beautifully constructed due to her superb knowledge of the old legends and stories that make even the setting itself feel alive with its magic.

I am not sure if I will read the other books in this series, because I can’t imagine I would enjoy them as much as this one. But who knows, I may have to find out….

____________

My Edition
Title: The Grey King
Author: Susan Cooper
Publisher: Atheneum
Device: Hardcover
Year: 1977
Pages: 208

Challenges: Library Love, Dewithon19

21 thoughts on “The Grey King, Susan Cooper (1975): Wales Readathon 2019

  1. I’m not familiar with this book or series, but it sounds interesting. It sounds like the author did a great job of bringing the stories from myth to life. I think I would enjoy this story. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved this series as a young teen and have often been tempted to re-read them, but have always worried they might not stand up to adults eyes. So it’s wonderful to hear you enjoyed it so much… I must dig out my ancient box-set… 😀 Oh, and you really should read the other ones…

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  3. I did wonder if the Old Language that Will instinctively understood in The Dark is Rising was in fact Welsh, or at least Brythonic, and what you write here seems to confirm that. I am going to space out the books in the series, but The Grey King is often rated as one of the best in the sequence. A fine review, thanks!

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    • But here’s the thing, when a thought or spell memory comes into Will’s head it’s mostly English or the spell or thought is described in English. I don’t think Cooper could do this any other way or there’d have to be translations every time Will had a vision or thought. And that would be awkward. There is a lot of Welsh spoken, though, in place names and in some of the dialog between characters that is translated into English. And a fun and instructive scene between Will and his cousin Rhys as he tries to explain sounds of English letters in Welsh to Will. But I probably shouldn’t have capped ‘Old Language’ because I see it’s confusing. Consider it ‘ancient language,’ instead.

      At any rate, I believe you will find this fascinating if you get to it.

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  4. I’ve always been interested in reading this series, but never had the real push to do it. I’m glad you did though! Sounds great, and hopefully I’ll have the chance to pick it up. Glad you enjoyed it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Wales Readathon 2019 – Book Jotter

  6. You should read the other books! Over Sea, Under Stone is skippable I think (it was written earlier and is much weaker). Each one has its own “flavor” and an intense sense of place. I think you would love them, if you enjoyed this one.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Super review. The book sounds so good. I love the passage that you quoted. There seems something grand about the writing.

    I am s bit of a stickler for read series in order so I would start with the first book.

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