by Susan Cooper
First sentence: “Where is he?”
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I’ve been trying to remember when I first read these books. It wasn’t when I was a kid, even though I would have loved them had I come across them. I’m thinking it was about the time that I rediscovered kidlit, about 15 years ago. I don’t remember what I thought about this particular book — I do love the next one in the series, The Dark is Rising — but I did find I remembered elements of the plot.
Simon, Jane and Barney Drew are on vacation in Cornwall with their family and their Great-Uncle Merry. On their second day there, they’re exploring the old house that “Gumerry” rented for them and discover an old map. It turns out that the map is written in old English and Latin; it’s a guide of some sort leading to the Holy Grail. It’s up to the kids to figure it out and find the grail… before the “other” side does. There’s a bit of adventure, some kind of tense moments, and it’s truly a middle grade book: except for a bit at the end, it’s a straight-up mystery that’s solved by Simon, Jane and Barney working together.
All that said, it’s really kind of a silly little book. Aside from introducing us to Merry (Merriman Lyon, who shows up in the other books. He’s actually Merlin…) and the Drew kids (they do make a reappearance), I’m not quite sure what purpose this book serves to the whole of the series. (Maybe it’ll become clearer as I read more.) You could honestly not read this book and not be missing much of anything. The writing’s not even as evocative as I remember some of the other books in the series being.
It’s a good thing I don’t judge series by the first book.