Over Sea, Under Stone

by Susan Cooper

Cover image

Series: Dark is Rising #1
Publisher: Aladdin
Copyright: 1965
Printing: 1989
ISBN: 0-02-042785-9
Format: Mass market
Pages: 243

Buy at Powell's Books

If the author's name is ringing a faint bell but the title is not, this is the first book of the Dark is Rising series, generally known by the name of the second book in the series (which was a Newbery Honor book).

This is a British children's fantasy story (and children's, not young adult, judging by the age of the main characters) and an excellent example of the genre, so from that you probably already have a pretty good idea of whether you'd like it or not. I picked it up out of curiosity since it tends to show up on many lists of memorable fantasy, going all the way back to the old Alexlit fiction recommendation engine.

The opening reminded me a lot of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; a group of children, at the beginning of a holiday in the country, get to explore a strange old house and find something unusual and magical, starting off their adventures. After that point, there aren't a lot of similarities of plot, but the heroes are the same sort of fairly well-behaved, likeable kids who are looking for an adventure. The plot itself is mostly a puzzle story, figuring out an ancient map while avoiding the agents of evil, and while it's pretty straightforward and simple, it's enjoyably written and well-paced. One of the fun things about children's novels that isn't as common in adult fantasy is that quite frequently open combat just isn't an option (the heroes are children, after all), which makes for more inventive problem solving (and a lot more running away).

The trappings of the story turn out to be pretty thoroughly Arthurian, which diminished my personal enjoyment somewhat. I admit to being pretty well sick of anything that smells of King Arthur or a grail quest. But the connection is thankfully just trappings and legends, not any retelling of the Arthurian plot.

There's nothing particularly exciting here, but it's a solid British children's fantasy and good fare for a young reader or an adult looking for some light and straightforward reading. My guess, from what I've heard about them, is that the subsequent books of the series are more remarkable; I expect that at some point I'll pick up the next and find out.

Followed by The Dark is Rising.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2004-06-01

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