The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper

Dark Is RisingInformation

Goodreads: The Dark Is Rising
Series: The Dark Is Rising Sequence #2
Source: Purchased
Published: 1973


On his eleventh birthday, Will Stanton learns that he is the last of the Old Ones, an ancient group dedicated to fighting the Dark.  He is the Sign-Seeker, the one destined to bring together the symbols of power that will help the Old Ones in the final battle.  But the Dark is rising.


The Dark Is Rising is a solid fantasy adventure that will keep readers flipping pages long after their bedtimes.  It possesses a likeable hero refreshingly grounded in a loving family life; a magical quest full of mystery and danger; and, of course, an epic struggle of good and evil.  Throw in a little legend and myth, and you have a story that seems guaranteed to succeed.

The characters really stood out in this installment of the series.  Whereas the Drew children (protagonists of the first book, Over Sea, Under Stone) seemed like typical children, nice but not particularly noteworthy, Will comes alive as a character in his own right–due, interestingly enough, to his relationships with others.  He is one of nine of children and his home is constantly bustling with activity, yet he never gets lost in the chaos.  His family loves each other and looks out for each other, so that no matter what happens in the plot, readers have a sense of its far-reaching consequences; this book is not just about darkness overcoming the world, but about darkness hurting the people you love.

Though the siblings are obviously not as involved in the action to the extent Will is, Cooper still manages to sketch out a personality for each of them–and she does not do it the typical way, which is to give each some sort of distinguishing characteristic or notable talents, so that they almost seem like caricature.  Yes, Paul likes music, but the rest of the family does, too.  And he is so more than that.  He is also perceptive and kind, and he has a way of knowing when people need to be alone or do not want to talk.  Likewise, though Mary could have just been that annoying older sister, she  is shown to be caring in her own way.  The entire family is always faintly alive in the background.

The plot arguably contains a lot more action than Over Sea, Under Stone, yet I would argue it is not as strong.  Will’s status as one of the Old Ones means that the Dark cannot actually harm him (though it can attack his family).  Thus, a lot of the sense of danger is lost.  Furthermore, the entire plot hinges around a quest that was predetermined in days gone by, thereby destroying any suspense.  We all know from the beginning that Will will succeed, thanks to all his mentors who repeatedly emphasize to the boy that thus it is ordained and he need not fear.  After all, though he is ostensibly seeking the six Signs, the other Old Ones know where they are; this is not Harry seeking the Horcruxes.  All Will really has to do is walk up to them and collect them.  A lot of fancy magic gets involved and one wonders why–perhaps the Old Ones just like to do things in style.  Actually, one wonders why Will had to do this at all.  Yes, magic has its own rules and the Old Ones surely know something the readers do not, but all the stuff about things happening “in their time” eventually starts sounding like an excuse to cover up a lack of any real logic.

I plan to continue the series, but I hope that Cooper allows her heroes to face real dangers and make real sacrifices.  Everything in this book was just a little too neat for me to believe that the world was ever in any real danger.

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