Bingo: I Wish. . .
The Grey King just might be my favorite fantasy novel for kids. The fourth book in The Dark is Rising series, it has Will Stanton, the last of the Old Ones, on a holiday in Wales where he meets a strange boy named Bran and searches for a golden harp that will aid the Light in their battle against the Dark.
The setting in this book is everything (and is why I picked it for this particular bingo category). Will is visiting family friends who have a sheep farm in the Welsh countryside. When I read this book as a kid, I was enchanted by Susan Cooper’s descriptions of the mountains and lakes and farms in this region and its ancient history (although she was mistaken about its connections to King Arthur). The Grey King makes Wales sound like some place out of a dream, like it existed in another time. It’s a magical setting for children’s fantasy book.
The story itself is a continuation of the quest that was set for Will in The Dark is Rising and Greenwitch–he must recover another Thing of Power before the Dark can steal it away. His mentor, Merriman Lyon, makes only a brief appearance, and for the most part its up to Will and the local boy Bran to fight against the forces of the Dark. There are some very bad, and very spooky, things that happen in this book. They contribute to the feeling this book always gave me as a child, that I was reading something quite mature and was therefore very grown up. I think the way adults in this book treat Will and Bran contribute to that feeling as well. The “good” adults treat the boys with respect and are honest with them; the “bad” adults dismiss them and treat them like children.
Prior to rereading it, the thing I remembered most about this book was Bran’s backstory. It surprised me, when I reread it, to realize that the final unveiling of his history, which comes at the end of the book, is really quite short and inconclusive. While the threads are all tied up in the final book, my one complaint about this one would be how quickly it’s all wrapped up–the end is kind of abrupt. It’s probably been 25 years or so since I read this book, so I was happy to realize how much it holds up overall–as did Books 2 and 3.