The Grey King

by Susan Cooper
ages: 10+
First sentence: “‘Are you awake, Will?'”
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Things that struck me while reading this book:

1. That this really is, so far, the tightest — and best (don’t shoot me; it’s better, in many ways, than The Dark is Rising) — of the series. It definitely deserves the Newbery sticker it sports.

2. I like how, so far, each book has a season: Over Sea, Under Stone is summer; The Dark is Rising is winter (which explains its moodiness); Greenwitch is spring; this one is autumn. It has a very autumnal feel to it. That mood is not as strong as the winter one, but it’s still very palpable, and still very there.

3. I like that Merriman is not really there. Yes, he does make an appearance, but it’s Will — and the Welsh boy, Bran — that really do all the work of the plot. It’s nice, for once, to see Will in his own element, exercising his own powers, without the guidance (or interference of Merriman).

4. The Arthurian legends are implied in the previous books — if you know they’re there, you’ll see it — but it’s explicit by this one, especially by the end. I liked that.

5. It bothers me that the cover has on it figures that don’t show up until the last chapter, and even then, don’t really do much of anything. Though, since there’s really no description as to what the Grey King looks like, and a picture of a mountain would be too boring, I guess this is what the designers are left with.

6. I like how Cooper uses prophecy: she writes one out, and it’s there guiding the book, influencing the book, but it’s not heavy-handed. You usually don’t notice she’s jumped you through a hoop of the prophecy until after the fact. That’s some good writing there.

It’s a good book; I like it as much, if not more, than The Dark is Rising, and I’m kicking myself for not realizing it sooner. It would also make a good stand alone: Cooper includes the most necessary information from the previous books (but it doesn’t weigh the book down), and while it’s always nice to read the whole series, this one would work well all by itself.

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